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Westfield Residents Rally to Talk Turf

Traffic, safety, lighting and expense all top the list of residents' issues with the proposed lighted, turf field.

A dozen residents of the neighborhood surrounding met Wednesday evening to discuss their concerns regarding the proposed that, for many of them, would be, literally, in their backyard. 

The group sat on lawn chairs on the WHS grass field, which could be the future home of the synthetic playing ground, with seating capacity for 540, and six 80-foot light poles.

Following the held Tuesday, July 10 hosted by Westfield Board of Education president Richard Mattessich, facilities chair Jane Clancy and Westfield schools' athletic supervisor Sandy Mamary, the group feels many questions are still unanswered.

For several residents, the sticking point is that the funding for the field, which will cost an estimated $3.3 million, has been bundled with proposed roof repairs, estimated to cost $13 million. Westfield residents will vote on one bond referendum that, if passed, would finance both expenditures, on Monday, September 24. 

"How did it get to the point where we're bundling a 'nice to have' with a necessity to keep our kids safe?" a Codding Road resident asked. "When we asked why the two were put together, the only answer we got is because they (the BOE) were afraid that the turf field would pass but the roofs would not." 

"I'd like to know the percentage of emails they received that said that," an Edgar Road resident scoffed. 

Several homeowners fear this could set a precedent of combining luxuries with necessities. 

Despite the attendance of experts at the July 10th meeting including Bob Zoeller from Musco Lighting, architect George Duthie and Perry Di Piazza of Field Turf, who presented an overview of the proposed field, WHS area residents said they still don't know what maintaining a lighted turf field will cost Westfield taxpayers. 

"What will the electrical bill cost? Who's paying for the light bulbs and who is changing them? How is this fiscally responsible? No one has answered these questions," a Codding Road resident said. "The traffic situation hasn't been addressed either." 

Residents believe evening events and weekend-long tournaments will generate additional parking problems in an already-crowded neighborhood.

"It's like bumper cars pulling in and out of my driveway as it is," one Trinity Place resident stated.

An Edgar Road resident said that so many cars were parked on her street during the high school's graduation, an ambulance or a fire engine would not have been able to get through, something that particularly concerns her given that she has a 96-year-old neighbor. 

The group also questioned the need for an additional turf field (Westfield's and complex are both turfed) given the current state of the economy.

"Aren't we paying enough in taxes as it is?" one homeowner asked. "Eighty-eight percent of the school budget is paid for by local support as opposed to 42 percent in the rest of the state and now we're not even given a choice of what we want to pay for." 

Residents quoted BOE member Mitch Slater, the lone dissenter when it came time to approve a with the Westfield Association of Administrators and Supervisors at the June 26th meeting of the BOE. Slater advocated for a contract with a one-year wage freeze – "to better reflect the current economic conditions and to help drowning taxpayers catch their breath."

Slater voted with BOE members Gretchan Ohlig and Mark Friedman to but they were outvoted 5-3. Ann Cary was absent for the vote. 

Those opposed to the field agreed the funds could be put to better use to maintain the schools or enrich current academic programs. One resident referenced a father who spoke at the outreach meeting and stated that his daughter was bringing paper towels to school. 

"I don't mind sending in paper towels or wipes when they send home the list of things they need but not when they're spending money on things like this," another Trinity Place resident said.

Of great concern to everyone present was the potential decrease in property value. While they said they knew they were buying homes near a school, they did not sign up for 80-foot light poles in their backyards or lights possibly shining into their houses.

"These are two- and three-bedroom homes," a father of three, who owns a home on Trinity Place, said. "We're all working hard to increase the value of our homes. This isn't happening in the six-bedroom-estate neighborhoods of Westfield."

Residents also expressed concern that other communities within Westfield are not even aware of the proposed field or the bundling of the field with the roof repairs. Those that do not have children, or families whose children are no longer in the school system, have no reason to check the BOE's website where most of the information regarding the proposed field is posted, they stated. 

When asked if the BOE had been invited to attend the meeting, the group said they had not contacted the Board as they did not feel it would yield any new information.

"I don't think we need another meeting," an Edgar Road resident said. "They now know how upset people are." 

This is the first of a multi-part series that will explore the various views regarding the proposed field. Check back with Patch over the next several weeks for more on this issue. 

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Gary McCready July 19, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Actually, I'd say the majority of the BoE is right in this case. Having spent way too many long hours debating prior bond issue presenations when I was on the board, people are more likely to come out and vote YES for something they want (turf field) rather than something the schools need (new roofs). And I think usually bond issues are more likely succesfully split when there are two "optional" items (like two different turf fields) or two infrastructure projects (like roofs and a new school) to give people the option of how much to spend on like projects. Like it or not, if we gave everyone line-item vetos, few things would get approved because people would typically vote for things that only benefit them. Personally, I would rather see the lights go to Kehler, but there must be a better reason for the high school field. Remember,the BoE is not putting this to vote because they don't know if it is a good idea; they are putting to vote because they know it is worth spending money on and would like the project approved.
Enough already July 19, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Moody's dropped Westfield's credit rating in August 2010 and the S&P just lowered it April 2012. Both drops were accompanied with words to the effect of "Finances for the town have been strained in our opinion," the attached report states. "The town has experienced a net operating loss each year since 2006." And now the town wants to spends $3 million on grass and lights. I do not see any payback with this expenditure. Actually I view it as wasteful in these difficult times.
Sally McBride July 19, 2012 at 06:19 PM
and this, as mentioned before, will cost Westfield next to nothing for a bond of $3.3M
Barbara Eckman July 19, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Isn't it time for fiscal responsibility? Westfield taxpayers just got hit with a sewer tax we never had before and now the town wants to spend more money that isn't there. If new roofs are needed, it should have been in the main budget and something else eliminated. As for the fields and lights....not now...maybe not ever. BAE
Jeff Peskin July 19, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Mr.Mcready- Wow! You are saying the Board of Education is smarter than everyone else? People need to be spoon fed their bonds? What a ridiculous statement. I think the people of Westfield can make up their own minds, thank you very much-
Time For Change July 19, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Gary, I wonder how many of those long hours were precipitated by you going on and on about how much smarter you are than the average wf resident. This situation is a far cry from a line item veto- This was a choice made by a Board that could have given the residents a choice rather than forcing something down their throats. Now, if the Bond fails, they start all over again with the roofs. I am fully supportive of the Board and what they do generally, but this time, they took away freedom of choice. At least there were 3 people who knew the right thing to do.
Enough already July 19, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I'm not sure how Sally McBride can say the bond will cost next to nothing. I hope she was being sarcastic, because a $3 million bond has to be paid back to the bond holders (lenders) with interest. So Westfield will still be out $3 million plus interest in the end with only grass and lights to show for it. How is this 'next to nothing'?
A.John Blake July 19, 2012 at 08:55 PM
May I ask the length of time for the loans and the length of time for the guarantee of the "turf"fields? Don't the Fields need some "renovation" after 6-8years? How much is that? Do you float another loan to renovate before you finish paying the original debt? Isn't Kehler's field up for "renovation"? How much is that going to cost? As for Mr. McCready, yours is the paternalistic manner of treating the public that has caused the BOE to suffer the bad public relations it has with the people it represents.You don't seem to understand that the public has an absolute right to vote on every item especially when you lump together the necessary with the unnecessary. If the questions were separate, I would have voted for the roofs. As it presently stands,the BOE requires an "all or nothing "vote. I vote "nothing". Go back to the drawing board and write up a referendum for the roofs and I'll vote for it. Every time any governmental body removes from me my choice because "they know better",they will insure my negative vote. A.John Blake
Natalie Wolfe July 19, 2012 at 09:23 PM
As a 15 year resident of Westfield and someone who really cares about our schools it pains me to have to vote no- but the points that A. John Bloke just made really convinced me. Can anyone on this page explain why the Board of Education insisted on only doing one bond? I definitely would have voted yes for a bond to improves roofs.
Gary McCready July 20, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Mr Blake and Peskin, nope , I don't claim that I (nor the present BoE) are smarter than everyone else, or even Westfield residents. I'm just trying to explain the reality of why things get put together in order to pass. It is more of a political decision than anything else. It may be just ironic that what most of you are against, the turf field, may be what is required to be in the bond with the roof work in order to get it to pass. I really do think that split you would only get a turf field passed. The BoE, and others elected, are supposed to try to govern for "all", and make the tough choices as they need to, which does include unpopular ones. . And in fact, they may not be smarter, but they are tasked to examine all the pro's and con's to figure out what is "best" - for their exact thinking I would recommend checking out the videos of the meetings finally posted on the district website. And that is why the BoE members are running unopposed - not many want to do that work. So feel free to criticize the messenger - it is still a free country were people can say most anything they want, especially in a forum like this. But you don't have a "absolute right" to micromanage and vote on everything - that is why you elect boards and councils to try to do the right thing.
MR. G July 20, 2012 at 10:45 AM
I can't believe that a TINY minority of people were able to convince the Board of Ed to group these two VERY DIFFERENT issues together. Does the Board of Ed understand the difference between NEEDS and WANTS? When the bond referendum is voted down and Westfield does not have funds to replace the aging school roofs, the Board of Ed is going to be in a difficult place in trying to deal with the mess THEY created. Wake up Board of Ed and take a look into the future and think about how you are going to deal with the impossible situation you are creating.Fix it now before its too late...PLEASE!!
Keith July 20, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Why is everyone so willing to believe that the roofs must all be done ?????? Please don't be so quick to make that assumption. Poor planning up to this point should bring this back into question. I would also like to know if the person responsible for this failed maintenance plan has been let go ?
Sally McBride July 20, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I thought you were complaining about the drop in the credit rating. The difference between the 2 credit ratings on a 3.3M bond is next to nothing.
Sally McBride July 20, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I wonder where are the other 700+ people that voted for the "removal of the HAWK light" in the first few days of that article. Now people will have to create multiple accounts and vote once from each one (sure people here can give a tutorial on this).
A.John Blake July 20, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Mr. McCready, Your last comment is correct. The BOE is elected to do the right thing. They are not asked to act in a manner considered politically proper to effect that which they think should be passed. Simplicity, openness, clarity will always carry the day with the majority of Westfield. It is the belief that the voters must be managed that is insulting to the voters. It is absurd to say that the majority of the voters would vote down a necessity like a roof and vote in favor of a possibly desirable project like turf fields. You forgot the most objectionable item, the lights. Your position basically will require the Board to come up with some sugar coating every time it wants to finance a necessity.Do you think the voters will only support bread and circuses? I don't criticize the messenger. I criticize any message that demeans the voters so much that it claims they must have a sugar coating on the necessary.It is beneath the dignity of argument to infer that the BOE tried to pass the referendum for the roof by including a $3 million turf as the incentive. A.John BLake
Sally McBride July 20, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I just realized that they are all on vacation. It's summer oops.
Gary McCready July 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Nope, I did not forget the lights (see above)- I just questioned why they should be at the high school when we have a perfectly good football field (after which it was turfed, the budget failed, by the way) that could be lit instead. The (fewer) homes around there already have football to deal with, and I think the lights would get more use, and actually be further away from the homes than they probably would at the high school. And yes, no matter what the BoE wants people to vote on, there is ALWAYS the consideration of how do they get the public to show up to vote yes. It is my personal opinion that, in this day and economic times, you'll get more people to come out to vote for something they want (turf fields, benefiting 20-30% of households - 40% have kids) than to simply come to vote for something that is needed (roof repairs). I do expect the BoE, once it comes to a decision, to do what it takes to implement it, including the appropriate amount of sugar coating. If people were forced to vote, then my assumptions would be different, but I would be really suprisied if we had more than 25% coming out to vote on the bond. And I doubt if the BoE still needed voters to pass a school budget the latest turf field would have seen the light of day (or night).
Concerned Resident July 20, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Out of curiosity, why wouldn't the turf fields, lights and parking be grouped together? It seems so shortsighted to not have planned the use of that side of the high school to accommodate the needs of parking, recreation (fields), and the community. What a missed opportunity.
A.John Blake July 20, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Mr.McCready, I believe the Education Lobby did much to move the BOE budget voting day to a time separate from the usual Nov. election day . They knew they would get a low turnout and they were correct. No one will decry the apathy of the people of Westfield more than I. The BOE specifically chose to move the vote on this question away from this Nov. election day because it promises to be the biggest election vote in years. Any intimation that the special voting day in Sept was aimed at getting a big turnout is beyond belief.If a big turnout was sought by the BOE, they would have had the vote in Nov. Once the Board makes its decision, it should not have to be sugar coated. If it is, the immediate question that comes to mind is "Why are they sugar coating it? What's wrong with it?" The Board holds its office. It is not running for something. It is asked to do the best it can to represent the interests of the people who put them on the Board. It has stated it's case. The voters should agree or not. Campaigning by the Board and through its surrogates is improper and unseemly.Once the Board recommends, it should remain mute because otherwise it appears to be partisan and biased. The Board should not appear to win or lose an election. They should remain above the fray and willing and able to carry out the instructions of its boss when the votes are counted. A.John Blake
Jimmy McNulty July 21, 2012 at 12:05 PM
After reviewing all of the stories written so far- and reading the logical comments posted here- It seems to me the Board of Education should consider voting again on whether there should one or two bonds- Clearly the people want two. And as A John said the interests of the people should come first.
Westfield Taxpayers July 23, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Just Vote No! We cannot afford this reckless spending during a huge recession/depression when so many families are struggling, or being foreclosed upon. Westfield credit rating is dropping because taxpayers are maxed out! Stop the spending! The BOE has been irresponsible for not maintaining the roofs, as clearly indicated in their reports. Then they told a different story at the HS meeting. The roofs are only being done to install Solar Panels, which will require more subsidies and higher maintenance costs to us after they drill 50,000 new holes in our new roofs! STOP THE SPENDING!
Gary McCready July 23, 2012 at 03:50 PM
few things... fyi, votes on School Bonds cannot take place on the usual November "election day" see below for the 2001 law defining the dates http://www.njsba.org/press_releases/new_law_will_restrict_bond_elect.htm and another interesting site with the same info http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/School_bond_and_tax_elections_in_New_Jersey#Election_dates And for districts that chose to move the BoE candidates election to November from April (like Westfield), only school budget amounts that exceed the cap (2%) will be voted on then as well. Apparently, that vote would would be on the money for the current year, which further limits what could be voted on. See http://www.njsba.org/PI/commissionermemo.pdf
Westfield Taxpayers July 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I disagree with Sally's reply. This has everything to do with residents being so over-taxed that we cannot afford luxuries like turf fields. State, local, and county taxes are all going up next year. Our economy is in decline. Homes are being foreclosed. Businesses are laying off moms and dads. I find your comments to be very insensitive to say the least.
Westfield Taxpayers July 24, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Sorry Sally, please try to pay attention, the bond is for $16 Million, not $3 million!!!
Walkin Westfield July 27, 2012 at 02:28 AM
the drop in credit rating is at least 1/2 %, don't forget the interest, insurance and fees to issue the bonds. The roof repairs should be paid out of the $95.4 million BOE budget, a 2.2% increase over last years budget .
Westfield Taxpayers July 30, 2012 at 09:46 PM
It is SO insulting to hear "Sally McBride" tell us that the higher taxes and job losses caused by over-spending, credit rating cuts, and 16M dollars(!) of new debt is "next to nothing". All of this adds up to a huge amount of money! Money that takes food, homes, and time from Westfield residents! How arrogant can you get?!?! Its disgusting.
Sally McBride July 30, 2012 at 11:16 PM
you have a problem with that?
Enough already July 31, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I see contractors working in Westfield on our roads, trees and parking lots with addresses from New York & Pennsylvania, none of them are 'local'. Are these out-of-state contractors related to the BOE or other elected officials that are making decisions on where to spend our tax money? Is it lowest bid or cronyism?
Sally McBride August 03, 2012 at 03:08 PM
insulting when you use " around someone's name just because you do not agree with their opinions. And AGAIN, I will state it here AGAIN, and maybe you will understand. The amounf of money that the town has to pay because of the credit rating change is next to nothing. Please read a book on the subject if you still do not undersand.
Sally McBride August 03, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I think we should hire local people if they are cheaper than the others, but they are probably not.

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