Scherer sees depot purchase happening in 2006

Former Hillsborough mayor sworn in as the new director of the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

By: Melissa Edmond
   Somerset County and Hillsborough Township will work toward acquisition of the 400-acre General Services Administration depot in 2006 — one of the key goals of Ken Scherer, the new director of the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and a former mayor of Hillsborough.
   Mr. Scherer, who has served on the freeholder board for eight years, was sworn in at the board’s annual reorganization meeting Jan. 6 in the courthouse on East Main Street.
   In discussing his goals for 2006, Mr. Scherer said the county will be focusing on open space purchases, improving mental health services and launching a reverse 911 system to notify residents of emergencies.
   He also said the county would work towards partnering with Hillsborough to purchase the GSA depot on Mountain View Road from the federal government and later to put money into helping develop it.
   "It’s going to happen," Mr. Scherer said about the county and township partnering to purchase the 400-acre GSA depot on Mountain View Road for possible recreation use.
   Mr. Scherer said he was the township mayor 10 years ago when the township tried to get the federal government to give the land to Hillsborough.
   "Ten years ago we couldn’t make it happen. Ten years later as a freeholder, I’m still in a position to help Hillsborough purchase this land with county dollars," he said.
   Mr. Scherer said he sees the purchase happening before the end of this year and estimates the property will cost $10 million to $15 million.
   He said the federal government was finishing environmental testing on the property, which was used for warehousing a variety of material and servicing vehicles until the 1960s, and contains varying levels of mercury, arsenic, and pesticides.
   Purchasing the depot may be a top item for Hillsborough residents, but Mr. Scherer sees it as a vital project for the county as well. And even though the lifelong Hillsborough resident has to address the needs of all 21 municipalities in Somerset County as freeholder director, "my heart is always here in Hillsborough."
   This marks Mr. Scherer’s second term as director of the board — he led the county body in 2001, also.
   "It’s very exciting … It’s more work. It’s more responsibility," he said about the director’s position. "Being director of the freeholder board is very similar to being mayor of a town."
   He said that the freeholder board was always looking towardsfor ways to purchase open space in the county. He said the county has and will always try to purchase space in the environmentally sensitive Sourland Mountain region whenever it becomes available. The region stretches across nearly 90 square miles in central New Jersey, including portions of Montgomery and Hillsborough.
   Such projects require the county to work with municipalities.
   "Somerset County — perhaps more than any other county in New Jersey — has perfected the art of partnering on many levels," he said during his inaugural speech.
   He said the partnerships had improved the quality of life for county residents and cited the county’s agreement with the Visiting Nurse Association of Somerset Hills to build a senior and county services complex in Bernards as well as the joint public works facility now under way to serve the county in Bridgewater and Bound Brook.
   He said one of the key capital projects for 2006 will include a two-story, 23,000-square-foot addition to the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center in Bridgewater, a facility for average or low-income individuals throughout the county. "Hillsborough and all 20 other towns in the county can use the facility," he said.
   "I don’t think most people recognize that county government is in our lives every day," he said pointing to the county’s various parks and roads as well as a Reverse 911 system the county is working towards launching by the end of this year.
   "The reverse 911 system allows the Office of Emergency Management to call each house in the county. We’ll be able to contact every home with a pre-recorded message that a tornado or hurricane is coming and they need to evacuate," he said.
   The system would allow emergency officials to contact the approximately 117,000 homes in the county about major emergencies and terrorist attacks, he said.
   Mr. Scherer said that his term expires at the end of this year and that he will be running for re-election. He has been on the board since 1998. He was director in 2001 and deputy director in 2000. He served on the Township Committee from 1991-1996, including sitting in the mayor’s chair from 1994-1997.
   He is the president of the Belle Mead Nursery and Hillsborough Irrigation, which he opened in 1977.