Letter to the Editor: Bond Projects Don't Make Financial Sense

The author argues that the projects don’t make financial sense and that taxpayers deserve to be given the chance to vote on individual projects based on their merits.

I am urging Westfield Taxpayers to vote "No" on the September 24 bond referendum. 

The BOE is asking for $16.9 million to perform work on all of the district’s roofs and install a 4th turf field in town, with 80 foot high lights.  At the July 10 meeting, I asked the BOE to provide detailed financial information and their cost-benefit analysis regarding these projects.  To date, this information has not been posted to the bond information website.  I reviewed the posted budget and the bond presentations to try and understand the financial impact of these projects.  My conclusion is that neither the roof project, as presented, nor the lighted turf field makes financial sense for approval. 

First, the $13.6 million roof project consists of not only repairing the roofs but also upgrading the roofs to support having solar panels installed.  That means we are being asked to borrow more money than would otherwise be needed to just fix the roofs.  The BOE’s roof presentation does not provide a breakdown of needed repair costs and the additional amount they want to spend on upgrading the roofs so solar panels can be installed. If upgrade costs are 20% of the $13.6 million total, then that $2.7 million should be evaluated against the benefits generated by putting solar panels on all the school district’s roofs. (The fact that the BOE did not provide the requested cost breakdown leads me to believe that the percentage for upgrading the roofs is higher than 20% of the total).  From the BOE’s roof presentation, the projected savings from installing solar panels is $650,000 to $980,000 over the panels’ useful life. The BOE is asking taxpayers to over-borrow at least $2.7 million today to save a maximum of $980,000 spread over 15 years.  None of us would do something so financially irresponsible in our personal budgets so why should we give the OK to the BOE?   

Second, the $3.3 million turf field the BOE says is needed so the high school doesn’t lose gym classes to wet weather, provide another regulation size field and to reduce maintenance costs. If having a turf field adds 10 extra usable days for gym classes per year (which is 10% of the school days in warm weather months) and the field lasts seven years (like Houlihan and Syd Fey fields) then the turf field will cost taxpayers $47,000 for each extra usable gym day.

As for reducing maintenance costs, during the eight years I’ve lived in town, we’ve had one hurricane and at least two other major storms that had over three inches of rain. The existing grass field has not needed to be repaired after those storms or at any other time. If other fields needed repair, then perhaps that is where the turf field should be located, however, since the 2012-13 budget only has $7,000 for field maintenance (up from $3,000), it doesn’t seem like the other fields need major repairs either.

Third, at the July 10 meeting, the athletic director said that the lights are primarily for the town programs not the school.  The only HS sport that plays games at night is football and they can’t play night games in town because Kehler Stadium doesn’t have lights due to neighborhood impact concerns.  If the lights are needed for town athletic programs there are other fields that could be lighted and not impact the neighbors (Tamaques Park for one).  The town declined to put lights on any fields citing costs and other priorities during these tough times.  Why is the BOE borrowing money for the town athletic programs after the town said no? 

There is no mention anywhere of how much the ongoing operating cost of the lights and field will be or if the new athletic site supervisor position mentioned in the budget is needed only to schedule usage of the turf field (I suspect it is).  Will the BOE cut something else to pay these costs, or will they increase our taxes again?  Also not mentioned is how much the BOE spent on the lighting consultant or the engineering study.  If the school district has extra money to pay these costs, couldn’t they return some of the $400,000 in annual student activity fees?

The rationale given by the BOE in July for why the vote on the roofs and field were not split into two questions was that they were concerned the field would pass and the roof project would be voted down.  Assuming this explanation is really the reason, and not that they wanted the turf field to pass by default, a two vote referendum could have very easily been written such that the turf field could only proceed if the roof vote also passed.  Reading about the meeting they held last week, the explanation now seems to be that other towns bundled their turf fields with necessary projects to get approval so we’re going to do the same.  Just because other towns didn’t give their taxpayers a say doesn’t make it right.

Vote "No" to this referendum.  The projects don’t make financial sense and it will also let the BOE know that we, the taxpayers, deserve to be given the chance to vote on individual projects based on their merits.  The BOE can come back to the taxpayers with a proposal for the cost of fixing the roofs without the fiscally irresponsible upgrades for solar panels or the bundled turf field.  Looking at the repair timeline, a January 2013 vote looks like it will have very little impact on starting work next summer.

— Andy Rickert, Westfield resident

1aokmom September 20, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I live 2 miles from Roosevelt School. The bus stop to Roosevelt is my house. My kids can't ride the bus because we are 2 doors from eligibility. If my kids cross Mountain Ave where the crossing guard is, they walk more than 2 miles (the eligibility criteria). The district wants to charge me $486 per yr per child to transport them. What do you think my vote will be for the referendum??????
Ryan September 20, 2012 at 10:56 PM
TforC Do you practice what you preach -- asking for full disclosure on addresses (What's your real name?) or actively participating in constructive community building (as you keep pushing others to do)? All of which I think are quite admirable. I know I wish I was more active... I hope the answer is yes, otherwise you talk an awful lot without really backing it up. Ryan Meyers (in case my full name doesn't get posted)
Turf No September 20, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Mr Mattessich, There is misinfomation in your letter to the Leader as well. Regarding your comment about the underground holding tank. I believe you were at the July meeting with concerned residents. During that ridiculous sales pitch, the engineer specifically stated that the fiekld needed to be raised 3 feet in order to install and underground drainage tank because of the brook that runs under. There were approx 50 people at that meeting and they all recall that specific comment. Existing trees blocking light is also false. The light towers are 80 feet high and the trees are not. The backside of the field has very few trees and none are tall. Your experts are answering questions, but do you truly believe they would ever answer anything in a negative way? I do not think so since they are the ones that will be reaping the benefits of the 3.3 million you want us to spend. Remember your answer to the question you were asked about having someone put lights in your backyard? Your answer was NO you would not be happy at all. As far as the bundling, just because this was done in the past does not make it the right thing. Perhaps someone should address the fact that 2 young students spent Saturday evening stealing signs from the nieghborhood, all of them Anti Bond of course. Maybe you should have a correction for your letter, unfortuantely to late for that.
B. Reasonable September 20, 2012 at 11:58 PM
NO' is the only reasonable and intelligent vote here. For anyone dense enough to think having ANOTHER lighted turf field is truly critical for the community, feel free to pack up and move somewhere else where you can find people who share your short-sightedness and lack of common sense. ANOTHER turf field would add zero long-term value (unless of course, you're a contractor or vendor trying to soak taxpayers via construction or maintenance contracts). BOE should do the right / responsible thing and split this ridiculous 'impulse buy' (which only a foolish few support) apart from the need to repair the school roofs (which everyone unanimously agrees should be done).
Andy Rickert September 21, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Rich, on the referendum, first let me state that I don’t think the BOE is made up of bad people or doing anything malicious with this bond referendum, but I do think somewhere along the line the BOE lost site of the fact that you have made a recommendation and are supposed to provide information for the taxpayers to evaluate that recommendation. You state that the BOE has worked hard to provide information at meetings and through e-mails yet at the July 10th meeting, I asked for the Board’s cost-benefit analysis to be posted to the bond information website. It hasn’t been provided and the only information posted is what I would call “sales pitches” that only show information that support your recommendation for the roof repairs and the turf field with no alternatives or even all of the costs (yearly lighting costs). At the July meeting, you said that the roof repairs are not being done just to install solar panels. That is a much different statement than there are no costs being spent to prepare the roofs for solar. Since the information I requested was not posted, I looked at the roof presentation.
Andy Rickert September 21, 2012 at 12:55 AM
reply (cont'd) In it, I see a note that 2 different options were shown to the board as well as repair costs for Lincoln School, and work on other roofs that still have 5 to 8 years of useful life. Since there is no explanation in any presentation why the 2 ply 20 year roof option was chosen over the 1 ply 20 year roof option (extra cost $1.6mm), and there is no cost-benefit analysis of why R-30 insulation was chosen over R-20 insulation (extra cost $1.3mm) and there seems to be no reason, other than solar, for fixing the roof on Lincoln School which was just renovated(cost $250k)or the other roofs with 5 or more years to go in their useful life, I figured the extra money is needed to make the roofs ready for solar. These total more than the $2.7mm I used in my letter. Nowhere in any posting or meeting that I read about did you discuss what other options were discussed for the roofs. There had to be other options discussed than this final recommendation. Some of them had to be for less money. Considering solar has been on the agenda for a few years and the way you bundled the turf field, it is tough to swallow that there is no extra costs in the roof project. I am not going to correct my letter without evaluating the information I requested in July.
Andy Rickert September 21, 2012 at 12:56 AM
reply cont'd #2 My $47,000 number is simple math: $3.3 million divided by 70 extra gym days equals how much each extra outside gym day (or practice day) will cost taxpayers. I used 10 extra usable days a year, which as stated in my letter is 10% of the school days in the warm weather months times a 7 year average life of the field. If you want to increase the usable days to 100, the cost is still $33,000 per day. Is this a simple metric? Yes, but no more so than the BOE stating the bond only costs $45 a year for the average taxpayer.
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 01:05 AM
if bundling of multiple non related issues for a vote is a historic practice in Westfield please provide specific examples
Rich Mattessich September 21, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Andy – Thank you for your response. The costs of the more detailed items were discussed many times. You may have needed to either come to a meeting or watch the taped version on TV, but the information is there. For example, annual maintenance of turf field vs. annual maintenance of natural grass; amount to be considered annually to replace top layer of turf in about 12 years; potential lighting costs; the fact that there will be NO cost for the roofs to be ready for solar; cost for various roofing materials; savings to be derived from the use of higher R value material (it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we did a cost - benefit of various R values and picked a level that made sense and saved money for the District); etc. Your simple math continues to completely miss the mark and remains incorrect. You note that you won’t correct your article until you get what you want. That is unfortunate. I am not asking people to vote a particular way – I am asking them to be informed when they go vote. I was hoping you would share that view and correct your article. Thanks. Rich
Rich Mattessich September 21, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Turf No – I would happily correct misinformation, but my article was 100% accurate. Let me address your main point and then I ask that you please take the time to go back and review the prior taped meetings – all of the information is there. There was NEVER a discussion of installing an underground water holding tank. What people heard (whether it was 50 or more) is that there are pre-existing underground pipes through which water flows under the field. They are ALREADY there, therefore requiring that the ground be raised up somewhat to put more space between the playing surface and the pre-existing pipes. Picture 2 or 3 large round cement pipes – probably tall enough to walk through – that control the water that used to flow freely many, many years ago under the area where the field now resides. As we have discussed in public more than once, the Town inspected the pipes and there is continued access to the pipes. Again – I am simply asking that people vote based on the truth. Thanks. Rich
paola briones September 21, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Dear TMC, Its okay to disagree but please be POLITE. Who are you? I bet you wouldnt speak this way if you disclosed your name. If you had some courage you would've added your name to all your comments.
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 03:18 AM
obviously the BOE should have made a greater effort in presenting a balanced description of the favorable and unfavorable impacts of the measure and not relied soley on artificial turf and outdoor lighting sales representatives.
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 03:27 AM
there is no new field. the BOE wants to spend millions of dollars to resurface an existing natural grass multi purpose field. Keep Westfield Green
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 03:30 AM
here you go again. how do you get 12 years when the warranty is for eight and the average life is for eight to ten years.
Westfield Parent September 21, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Mr. Rich Mattessich, could you explain why we are not putting lights at Kehler Stadium instead, with the existing artificial field? Wouldn't that be the most logical, the most economical, and the most sensible thing to do?
Doogie Howser September 21, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Please sell your house to somebody who supports a string school system and the investments that requires. When enrollment goes up and the cost of living goes up, and there is no new untaxed land to devlelop, how do you not expect taxes to go up?
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 03:45 AM
So what happened to the under ground water holding tank idea? "Raised up somewhat?" or raised up three to four feet above the existing playing field. What is already there is a natural grass multi purpose field. If the idea is to increase availability maybe a better idea is the acquire another field.
Rich Mattessich September 21, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Walkin W – please go back and listen to what was said. You are correct that the warranty is 8 years. Things can last beyond warranty when properly cared for and well maintained. I said “about 12 years”. You propose an average life of 8 to 10 years. A properly cared for and well maintained field can last more than the average. Based on our current knowledge of Kehler, and everything we have discussed in public meetings, together with the information you have added, I think we all have a sense of what constitutes an appropriate number of years to consider when voting on the Bond. Vote with facts, not misinformation. That is all I ask. Thanks. Rich
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 03:51 AM
On what date will the BOE do away with the $125 Student Activity fee?
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 04:01 AM
By the 2020-2021 school year the WHS populaton is projected to be below the student populaton for 2012-2013. The increase enrollment is only a mini baby blip. Natural grass can support a strong school system and help all residents household savings increase.
Cam Newton September 21, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Walking Westy Walk your dumb ass out of Westfield
Cam Newton September 21, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Walking Westfield Walk your dumb behind out of town
Walkin Westfield September 21, 2012 at 04:11 AM
By the 2020-2021 school year the WHS populaton is projected to be below the student populaton for 2012-2013. The increase enrollment is only a mini baby blip. Natural grass can support a strong school system and help all residents household savings increase.
Tell us the truth September 21, 2012 at 11:04 AM
Why no reply to the question about Scotch Plains? They live under the same rules as us and have been able to find the funds for roof replacements and HVAC units without bonds? The quote from the Leader appears that their BOE president even compares us to them. Given the state of our roofs and the auditor's finding of our woefully low reserve amounts, is or has the strategy of the BOE been to consciously plan for larger maintenance items to be bonded all along? That's a simple question that one who has been on the Board for 3 years or more should be able to answer. I suspect this bond, while the actual timing may not have been known, has been part of the long range plan for awhile now.
Time For Change September 21, 2012 at 11:15 AM
These comments are laughable. Its become a game of "I don't want the field so let me say anything, truthful or not", just to make my point. In fact, it shows, just how mis-guided and self-serving so many people are. Hey, if you do not want the field or the roofs or to pay for anything, that is fine, bit for the 100th time; having the lights was not the genesis for this new field so putting lights at Kehler does not get the town what is required to support the sports programs at the schools. It is about adding more capacity, so that the additional turf field, gets us that. People, come on, don't be ignorant. There is so much information out there, at this stage, the questions should be informed questions!
Time For Change September 21, 2012 at 11:17 AM
WW, there must be more than one person writing under your screen name, because nobody could actually post as many ridiculous comments as you do.
WF Parent September 21, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Just VOTE NO now! The BoE has said that when this bond does not pass, they can put the unbundled roof bond back out to vote as early as the November 6 general election. The roofs will get fixed, and our kids can continue to play sports on the more than adequate, natural grass field that already exists at a much lower maintenance/replacement cost than a plastic turf field, and without a $3.3 million installation cost!
Just Concerned September 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
VOTE NO -- cut in public safety -- HELLO?
South-side resident September 21, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Mr. Mattessich -- For the record, I don't live near the proposed turf field, and I do understand some of the arguments both for and against the field. However, with all due respect, I am one who believes the bonds for the roof repairs and the field should not have been bundled together. "Bundling" may have been done in the past, but it doesn't make it the right thing to do in every situation. Especially during tough economic times, when one item is so clearly a necessity and the other item is clearly not. I support the expenditure for the roof repairs, and I don't think there is much disagreement in town that a bond for that alone would pass. (I also think there is some merit to the argument that has been made by some that the town would not be in the position to need the bond if expenses had been better managed over the years, but I realize you are new to the board and that is not your legacy). In the end, if more than 50% of voters think the turf field is a good investment of taxpayer dollars, then it would pass on its own merits. I have kids who play sports, and I personally would still rather see the town save the $3 million. For residents concerned about the drop in the school district's rating over the years, I would say investing in the classrooms/staff is a better option. Thank you.
Andy Rickert September 22, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Hi Rich, so all of this information was already provided, but if you missed the meeting when it was discussed you can't get it? Even if you ask for it to be provided? At the July 10 meeting, the Board did not answer the direct question regarding the annual cost of the lights or maintenece. So, at the meeting I was able to attend, the question asked wasn't answered. It is not on the bond website. How was I supposed to get the answer? I can't be the only taxpayer who missed the meetings you reference and want information. I expected that you did a cost-benefit analysis and that is why I asked for it to be posted. An informed voter would be able to look at the alternatives you discarded and conclude that the option you chose was either the best and vote yes or disagree and vote no. By choosing not to provide the requested information, you ensured voters could not be fully informed.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something