Berlin Told to Use or Lose Open Space Funds

BERLIN- Facing the loss of a quarter of a million dollars of Program Open Space money if the funds go unused by late summer, Berlin could move ahead on as many as four projects in the next few months in order not to lose all of the state of Maryland funding for parks that has been allocated to the town by Worcester County.

The most significant initiative is the long discussed Berlin Parks Master Plan, which would allow the town to create a planned approach to park improvements, instead of making haphazard additions.

According to Worcester County staff, $247,000 in Program Open Space funds have been allocated to the town of Berlin in the last two years, but not spent.

The Berlin Parks Commission has not made any changes to the parks using Program Open Space dollars since 2006, when the new fence was erected at Henry Park.

A recent change in state regulations should allow the town to apply for and use Program Open Space funds for the Master Plan, which has been on the town’s Program Open Space wishlist for several years. Until recently, only one planning project per county could he applied for each year, and Worcester County has used that opportunity in the past.

Program Open Space funds may be used for either development or acquisition, but Berlin has no parkland purchases planned. No potential additional parkland explored by the town has been available for sale in the last few years.

The Parks Master Plan should cost about $30,000, according to Berlin grants administrator Bohlen’s Program Open Space report, with $25,000 from program funds, the maximum for parks planning allocations, and $5,000 from the town of Berlin.

Bohlen also recommended replacement of a large playground unit in Stephen Decatur Park. Although Program Open Space is meant for new park development, the replacement should be allowed under Program Open Space rules because the playground unit in question is so old that it has outlived its useful life. The new playground equipment would cost around $50,000, Bohlen estimated.

The installation of fitness stations on the new scrap tire path in Stephen Decatur Park, which should be completed by the end of June, would cost about $30,000 to add. Another $10,000 would pay for a picnic area and educational signs for the Stephen Decatur Park nature trail and pond.

The four initiatives to be pursued this summer total only $115,000, leaving another $132,000 on the table to be re-absorbed by Worcester County.