$7.7M Fields Referendum Plan Moves Forward
High school athletic field proposal, if approved by BOE, will go to voters Jan. 22.
By a near-unanimous vote, the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Education approved putting forward a plan to improve athletic facilities at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools. The body decided to place one $7.7 million question before voters for a bond referendum on Jan. 22.
The board will consider a resolution at its next meeting to make the referendum plan final.
Before the vote, bond attorney Lisa Gorab from the firm Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer presented the board with a plan to reduce the amount of money it would have to borrow to cover the cost of school field improvements. Gorab recommended refinancing current outstanding debt and using the savings to reduce the debt that would have to be incurred for the fields project.
Gorab said the fields plan would be financed with 10-year bonds, at a cost to taxpayers of $880,000 per year in new debt service for 10 years. By refinancing old debt, the lawyer said $175,000 could be saved, cutting the annual payment to abot $700,000 per year.
"That will cost taxpayers about $30 annually on assessed homes," she said.
Gorab also recommended limiting the referendum to one question rather than multiple questions.
"The more questions you have, the more confusing it is to the voters," she said.
Board attorney Kathleen Gilfillan added that confusion can lead to litigation down the road.
Gorab said the evening's vote was to authorize her to draft a referendum that would go forward after the new Board of Education is seated at the start of 2013, adding that in order to draft the document, she needed to have a final figure for the project cost and the number of questions the board wanted to include.
Board member Michael Strumolo reacted with anger.
"I feel like the tail wagging the dog," he said, insisting that hard numbers on the cost of the field project had not been provided to the board.
Member Susy Golderer agreed with Strumolo, saying the $7 million-plus figure was a surprise to her.
President Frank Calabria disagreed, saying that the numbers were discussed and agreed to during the board's Aug. 23 meeting.
At that meeting, Golderer voted yes, but indicated that in the end she would not support a plan cost that exceeded $6 million.
Member Gary Martin expressed frustration as well, arguing that Parsippany's children deserved every improvement—$11.5 million worth—previously considered by the board. He added that a retractible dome roof should be part of the project as well.
"The children deserve it all," he said, "not some half-assed, Mickey Mouse project."
"I don't see why this comes as a shock or surprise," said board member Fran Orthwein.
Members of the public agreed with Orthwein.
"No more delays," said Beth Bluj. "Decemeber marks one year since the Fields of Dreams discussions began. It's time to stop beating a dead horse. No one should be surprised. Listen to the experts. This is not a half-assed project.
"Move on with this project so we can give the kids fields they can be proud of," she urged, and her husband followed to concur.
"For the better part of a decade," said Tom Bluj, "we've been waiting. The children have been waiting. The town has been waiting."
"Why do you have to waste everyone's time?" resident Alison Cogan asked the dissenters. "You made a resolution. We counted the numbers."
When the board finally voted, all members voted yes, save for Martin, who cast an abstention.
Before his yes vote, Strumolo made a statement pointing to a recent fields referendum considered in Montville.
"That was for $1 million, and it failed," he said. "If this one fails, [when it comes to the fields], we're back to square one."