The following is an open letter sent to the from Mayor James Barberio regarding the long-debated high school turf field proposal.
Last December, representatives of my administration and I attended a meeting of the Board of Education to publicly propose the concept of a joint partnership initiative between the Parsippany-Troy Hills municipal government (the “Township”) and the Board of Education for a turf fields project.
The concept is very straightforward—the Township needs more fields and the Board of Education needs to improve its fields. My view is, that by working together, we could structure a partnership whereby this project could become a reality for our community without raising taxes.
That would be a win-win situation. Our kids would all benefit from this terrific project and the taxpayers would not be forced to pay any more of their hard-earned dollars to fund it.
The structure of the partnership was worked out and agreed to by the lawyers for both the Township and Board of Education and works as follows:
The Township would fund the project with existing and future open space/recreation trust fund dollars, and in exchange, the Township would obtain a conservation easement and usage of the fields.
The conservation easement is a legal requirement which enables the Township to use open space/recreation trust funds. The Township would be able to use the fields 51 percent of the time and the schools would be able to use the fields 49% of the time.
A shared services agreement would need to be negotiated addressing scheduling and numerous ancillary issues. But the fundamental pieces of the partnership were agreed to as outlined above. In fact, back in December 2011, the Board of Education voted unanimously to proceed with the partnership based on structure I have just outlined.
In order to be confident that our partnership structure would be approved by the state, legal counsel for the Board of Education sent a letter to the Department of Education back on Dec. 19, 2011. That letter confirms the partnership structure I just described.
Specifically, the Board of Education’s counsel states, “The mechanism we propose to accomplish the mutual goal of the Township and the Board of Education, while complying with all applicable statutory requirements, is the granting of a conservation easement by the Board of Education to the Township whereby the turf fields would be preserved as open space and for recreation, with public outdoor recreation (i.e. Township programs, etc.) provided at least 51 percent of the time in each calendar year.”
That letter, written by the Board of Education’s attorney, accurately states the agreement I made with our Board of Education last December. Again, that agreement was unanimously approvedby the Board of Education.
The state has recently responded to the Board of Education attorney’s letter. The Township attorney and the Board of Education’s attorney interpret the State’s response to be favorable and encouraging.
All systems should be go. We should be meeting with the Board of Education, furthering our agreement to provide new fields for our children with no tax increase to our residents.
Last week, I met with representatives of the Board of Education to begin discussions on a shared services agreement. Unfortunately, that meeting did not go well. The Board of Education representatives did not have any interest in discussing a shared services agreement, but rather, surprisingly expressed reservations about proceeding forward in the manner they had previously agreed to.
I am aware that this matter will be discussed at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.
The issue for the Board of Education is clear—does it want to partner with the Township to do the turf fields project previously agreed upon without raising taxes? Or, does the Board of Education desire to forego its partnership with the Township and ask the voters to increase their taxes for the project?
I respectfully await the Board of Education’s decision.
James R. Barberio
Mayor, Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills