BOE Votes to Combine Roof Repair and Turf Field Into One Bond
Single bond referendum will appear on ballot on Sept. 24
The Board of Education last night accepted the recommendation of its Facilities Committee to include the roof repair and lighted turf field installation projects as one proposal as part of a bond referendum ballot to be voted on this fall.
As a result of the Board’s action, voters will make one decision that will determine the fate of two separate multi-million dollar projects. The Board had previously approved bonds referendums for long-sought roof repairs on a dozen district buildings as well as a lighted turf field to be installed at Westfield High School. The two projects carry a total estimated price-tag of more than $16 million.
The single bond referendum, which was approved by a 5-3 vote, will appear on the September 24 ballot.
Jane Clancy, chair of the Facilities Committee, said that both projects are pressing needs for the district, a belief that had become apparent at Board meetings in recent months. However, due to the two percent cap on the district’s reserve fund balance as well as substantial recent decreases in state aid, the Board said that bonds would be the most prudent solution to getting such projects funded.
“We knew that we did not have the funds or the ability to save for work of this magnitude,” Clancy said.
Before casting votes, the Board discussed the issue among itself and with several members of the public in attendance. Those in favor of offering the two as one proposal stressed that the projects were equal and, thus, should be presented to the public together. However, several Board members as well as residents in attendance suggested it would be more sensible – and democratic – for each project to be voted on separately.
“It is our job to make this decision and it is a difficult one,” Clancy said.
In addition to Clancy, votes of approval for the single proposal came from President Richard Mattessich, Vice President David Finn and members Ginny Leiz and Rosanne Kurstedt. Members Mitch Slater, Mark Friedman and Gretchan Ohlig voted against the measure. Board member Ann Cary was not in attendance.
“I’m a firm believer in the democratic process,” said Slater, who also said he supports both projects. “The fair thing is to float two separate bonds so the taxpayers – who ultimately will foot the bill – can make their own minds up on each project.”
Friedman also said he supported both projects, but said he favored a system where each could be voted on by the public independently and on its own merits. Ohlig noted that the Board has a lot of work to do if it hopes to rally enough support to ensure that both projects are passed.
Members of the public seemed concerned that a single referendum could result in the passage of two separate projects that – standing on their own – might not both have enough public support to be passed individually. While the roof repair seems to have strong support throughout the district, some members of the public – particularly those residing near the high school – are less emphatic about funding the lighted turf field.
“The priorities of the two are not equal,” said one resident of the high school area. “Let us decide – the ones who are paying for all of this.”
No members of the public spoke in favor of the single referendum, while four spoke against it.
However, Mattessich said he had spoken with residents who felt differently and would support the field but not the roof. He said it would be “an unacceptable solution” if the roof repair does not pass. But he maintained that the optimal solution is to have both voted on as a pair.
“I would like both projects to pass,” he said. “I feel the right proposal is to combine them.”
After approving the single bond referendum, the Board later unanimously approved the language of the bond statement itself (though at least three members seemed to hesitate before casting their votes). Though Clancy said the district was required by law to include wording the indicated the district had not applied for state funding of the projects, she assured the Board that the district would seek such financial assistance should the resources become available in the future.
“The state had stopped funding these projects several years ago and there has not been any funding available,” she said. “If funding does become available in the near future, we will make every effort to secure any available funds."