Council to Again Introduce New Open Space Law
The Town Council will consider a number of proposed ordinances during its Tuesday meeting.
The Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Council will take up a familiar matter when it convenes its regular business meeting Tuesday evening. One of the primary issues on the tentative agenda is the reintroduction of a proposed ordinance to scrap the current Open Space Trust Fund.
The prospective new law, supported by Mayor James Barberio, was met with criticism from some residents who question the controversial high school turf field proposal some call Fields of Dreams.
Ultimately, the measure was put on hold. The council tabled debate on the ordinance proposal at its March 20 meeting after opponents noted that different versions of the law appeared on the township's website, in the Daily Record (the council's official newspaper) and in the text distributed at the meeting, a violation of state statute.
Township Attorney John Inglesino said the measure would be prepared again in accordance with the law. As promised, that rewritten proposal—the word "floodplains" was inserted into its title—is slated for reintroduction Tuesday night.
If the council approves the proposed new law, the current trust fund would be replaced with a new fund with a new name: the Municipal Open, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historical Preservation Trust Fund. The new law would expand the uses of open space dollars to include the items in its title.
One major criticism of the turf field proposal is its funding mechanism: The mayor calls for the use of Open Space Trust Fund dollars to cover bonding of the estimated $4.5 million project, which would install artificial turf fields and other athletic improvements at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools.
Some residents question using open space funding for these athletic improvements, insisting that the Open Space Trust Fund was intended to preserve natural spaces. Others accuse the mayor of changing the law to make it easier for the Fields of Dreams project to be implemented. Some even say the proposed law would turn the Open Space Trust Fund into a slush fund for the mayor's pet projects.
Inglesino said the accusations are not true. He said the ordinance change is intended to clean up a murky bit of law and to make the uses of open space funding more clear and his administration.
The Tuesday night meeting will not mean a vote on the proposal. The measure must go through two official readings at successive council sessions before being put up for a vote before the body.
Even if the new ordinance ends up winning passage in May, there is an additional hurdle the turf proposal must clear before it can become reality: In order for the township to use open space funds for any project, the municipality under law must have an ownership interest in it. In the case of Par-Troy's high school fields, the Board of Education would have to cede 51 percent of its ownership of the fields to the township in perpetuity.
Before the school board can proceed with consideration of the idea, it first must get the approval of the state Department of Education, which sent the matter to the state attorney general for his okay. Even if such approval is granted, BOE President Frank Calabria has said that the board will not make a decision on the Fields of Dreams until it has looked at all the pros and cons of handing its land over to the town.
Two other ordinance proposals appear on the Town Council's tentative agenda.
One would establish hourly wage ranges for the township's blue-collar supervisors. The other would make changes to the health department fee structure. Both measures are up for their second readings, public discussions and potential votes.
The council is also expected to consider passing a resolution supporting the “Alex DeCroce Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights” now under consideration in the state General Assembly. The measure, co-sponsored by DeCroce's widow, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, would strengthen the rights of those victimized by criminals.
The council meets Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.