Thursday, September 3, 2015

Council Votes In Favor of Mayoral Compromise on Parks and Fields Bond Referendum

A divided Common Council voted to approve a compromise to the parks and playing fields bond referendum offered by Mayor Dan Drew.

The 7-5 vote saw Democrat Tom Serra joining Republican Council members (Kleckowski, Giuliano, Bauer, Russo-Driska) opposing the compromise, while the remaining Democrats voting for the compromise (Daley, Chisem, Streeto, Bartolotta, Kasper, Santangelo and Faulkner).

The special meeting was called by Drew to address concerns about the bond issue voted into effect on August 24 by the Council which would have provided $37 million for new natural grass fields and park improvements.  The compromise lowered the bond amount to $33.45 million, added 4-6 new playing fields and extended improvement to fields not noted in the original language to satisfy residents who felt that some schools, especially those in urban neighborhoods, had been ignored by the initial bond proposal.

Several residents spoke about the issue during the public hearing.

Advocates from the town's sporting leagues raised issues of playing time and quality of fields hoping to defeat the measure. Resident Michelle Malloy said it was important that the city should better its reputation with other sports leagues, asking that "we strive to be the best we can be."

Residents opposing the use of artificial turf reiterated concerns about health and safety issues they had made at the previous meeting. Moses Harvell said, "Use what the good lord blessed us with: dirt and natural grass."

Council members opposed to compromise cited lack of a detailed plan with the compromise package. Some questioned where the new proposed fields would be built, and were not satisfied that there wasn't a ready answer.   Council member Seb Giuliano advocated for an approach which would allow for new artificial turf technologies in the future.  In a florid speech he compared the compromise bond language to Humpty Dumpty, broken apart, and unable to be put together again.  Council member Sandra Russo-Driska, who is running for mayor, indicated that it was unrealistic to expect to reach the staffing levels needed in the future to maintain parks since past performance indicated that future councils would not vote for adequate personnel.

Council member Gerry Daley agreed with the maintenance issue, "We have to face up to maintenance in the next budget cycle." But he stressed the need to do something for the parks, "I don't think we should delay, this is long overdue." Others in favor of the compromise cited the need to err on the side of safety when it came to constructing fields of real grass, and not artificial turf, and the overall need to pay attention to parks which have suffered neglect for years.

In a separate resolution, the Council voted to bifurcate bonding language to separate the request for parks money from the request for additional dollars for sewer line construction, making them separate questions for the ballot.

In addition, the bifurcation allows the parks and fields bond to be challenged again at the next Council meeting where it's expected that opponents will once again try to defeat the compromise by having it removed completely from the ballot.


Anonymous said...

As you can see by the vote...highly political. Unfortunately this bond needs to be voted down and resubmitted in a year where the politician's can actually think about what's good for the city and not how many votes they might get in an election.

Ridge Road Resident said...

I don't understand why this wasn't done in a more systematic way - getting input from citizens first then creating plans. So much is just done in a haphazard fashion in this town and is just rushed through with little thought and room for discussion. As an example, just look at the mess in front of Farm Hill School.

Anonymous said...

To say that the new proposal is "Humpty Dumpty," is certainly not a good reason, or any reason at all to include astro-turf in the proposal. What hasn't been thought out (speaking of Humpty Dumpty) is what we'll do with these fields in ten years, the cost to dispose of them, and how we will refund the replacement of said fields.

Anonymous said...

I commend the mayor and council people who voted to put the health and safety of our kids first! That should always be #1! We will improve the grass fields and also add 6 new grass fields so there's enough playing time. This referendum language is now a good compromise for the playing field part of the parks referendum. It also reduced the cost of the bond since grass is less expensive the artificial turf! Now let's let the people decide in November.

~Concerned Parent

Anonymous said...

I commend the 5 no votes. Who stood by what was right and knew this needed to be looked at more. They took the real chance here, unlike the Mayor who was looking for party votes. He galvanized this community, once again not knowing what this would cause, pitting neighbors and friends against each other all the while hiding behind a blade of artificial grass. But alas, we saw you. You saved 4 million, only to see 1 million added to the annual budget in Parks employees....take that over 30 savings, cost twice as much. But hey, you'll be in Hartford by then.

Lifelong resident, concerned.

Jim Streeto said...

No, not political, and neither "haphazard" nor "rushed." I think by now any thinking person would realize that ANY vote on this issue is going to cost the caster several hundred votes, given the attention, publicity, and controversy surrounding it.

As mentioned in another post--I'm not sure what it is that "need[s] to be looked at more." The only controversial point is whether to include artificial turf as an option or not. NO ONE has seriously questioned that the existing parks are in dire need of maintenance and renovation. And NO ONE has seriously argued that the proposal won't provide a healthy measure of renovation. So I'm unclear what it is that people want examined. If its maintenance costs--well, certainly next year's council should be looking at those. But maintenance costs should be examined whether the bond passes or not, based upon what we've learned from the study.

The real question for the voters, in my opinion, is whether we want to invest 30 million plus to provide some much needed renovations to our park and rec system. There can be only one reasonable answer to that question on election day.