Monday, July 2, 2018

Common Council Transfers $860,000 Out of Recreational Green Fields Budget for Electronic Harbor Park Sign, and Improvements to Palmer Field Locker Rooms

The electronic sign at Westfield FD conveys an essential
safety and security message
On Monday evening, Common Council members approved two separate fund transfers from the recreational green fields fund to construct an LED electronic signs at Harbor Park, and for improved locker rooms at Palmer Field.

The green fields fund are bonded dollars set aside to build new playing fields in town.

An $800,000 transfer was approved to renovate locker rooms at Palmer Field and make bleacher improvements there.  Money had been approved previously to make renovations at the field, but improvements in the locker rooms had not been considered.

"Why it was not included in the original feasibility study, I don't know," said Council member Gene Nocera.

Nocera defended the improvements as essential.

"We have to complete the improvements at Palmer field," Nocera said.  "It would be a shame if we didn't.

Gene Nocera defends the
transfer of funds.
Another $60,257 was transferred from the green fields fund to construct an electronic sign at Harbor Park, to replace a decrepit sign that was removed in the fall of 2017.

The total cost of the sign is estimated at $82,100.  The remaining $21,843 needed is in the current city budget, but, according to Council member Gerry Daley, those funds were "left over" from a previous budget for sign improvement at Harbor Park.

Council members and Public Works director, William Russo said that the money transferred out of the green fields fund was not needed for fields because the city was able to achieve 35 additional playing slots for city teams because of new lighting at existing city fields (Pat Kidney field, Woodrow Wilson Track and Football, Moody Softball, Hubbard Park).

Planning director Joe Samolis, who sponsored the transfer of funds to build the sign, said that discussion of sign improvement went back to when his predecessor ran the department.

Some youth sports advocates in town feel betrayed by the decision.

Darrell Ponzio, an organizer for Middletown youth lacrosse wrote in a text to the Eye: "As anyone involved 3 years ago will recall, the planning committee’s recommendations were based on two years of studies on field demand/availability. They recommend a fair amount of artificial turf fields to properly accommodate that demand. Because of environmental concerns, funds were only to be used for grass fields and to ensure field availability AND field quality, 6 new fields had to be built to make up for the lack of turf and their inherent flexibility and longer availability over the course of the year (rain/snow). To suggest that because Pat Kidney now has lights that all our problems are solved is ridiculous. We probably can’t have the lights on after 10 pm, and what 3rd graders will be allowed to practice at 9:00 at night.  This was a sneak attack on all those who had agreed to how the $32M would be spent - which is to say it was a sneak attack on all the citizens of this City. Let me know how I can book Palmer field for lacrosse practice. I can’t use Long Hill or Country Club Rd - soccer only. Can’t use Moody - it was used all spring and needs to rest. If it rains I can’t use any field (except the HS turf if that were open to any sport aside from HS football)."

Planning and Zoning Commission chair Stephen Devoto (also a contributor to the Eye) also spoke in opposition to the electronic sign saying that, according to zoning regulations the signs "are banned in Middletown on any property."  He also sited language from riverfront improvement regulations that indicate an electronic sign as an inappropriate usage.

"If you vote for this you are voting for something that is not allowed in the city," Devoto said.  "You're voting for something that would need a zoning exception."

Council members responded to Devoto by indicting that a precedent had been set by allowing the electronic sign in front of the Westfield Fire Department.  In addition, Council member Daley indicated that the sign would not be available for commercial uses.

Devoto also urged the Council to take responsibility for the vote, and not to characterize it as a simple transfer of funds.  He indicated that a vote for the sign implied tacit approval by the Common Council

"Don't pass this decision down to some non-elected board," Devoto said. "If you make this decision I would like you to own it."

Council member Bartolotta
said: "I just don't think this
is the appropriate use of funds."
"I don't think our vote for a transfer of funds signals our approval one way or the other," Council member Seb Giuliano said.  "We're just transfering money from one line to another."

Council members indicated that the approval of funds did not mean the sign would automatically be built, and that approval would be needed by other city commissions including the ZBA and the Planning and Zoning commission.

Council members defended the need for an electronic sign as a way to transmit important safety information to drivers and residents.  But in their defense of not voting for the measure, Council members Mary Bartolotta and Rob Blanchard indicated that the placement of the sign would make it an ineffectual method of transmitting safety information.

"By the time you see the sign, you're already at the lights on Route 9," Bartolotta said.

"And I don't support where the transfer of funds is coming from," Blanchard added.

In the end, both measures were voted in.  Blanchard, Bartolotta and Grady Faulkner voted against the transfer of funds to build the sign, and Blanchard and Bartolotta voted against the transfer of funds to repair Palmer Field.


Anonymous said...

Who couldn't have predicted this would happen. $30+ million dollars just sitting there. How they can they take money voters approved for one thing and use it for something else?

Anonymous said...

What a mess and eyesore - do they want more accidents on Rte 9 due to people being distracted by an LED sign? I hope the zoning laws will prohibit this.

Bob & Judy Walsh said...

Another case of money being siphoned off from its intended, voter approved purpose.
Our city parks are woefully in need of basic routine maintenance.
Crystal Lake and McCutcheon Park are an example of City Property that is almost totally ignored and as a result is incredibly under utilized. There is tremendous potential for hiking and swimming but is constantly in need of basic maintenance. Maybe our politicians should start doing ribbon cuttings when the safety issues at a park have been
resolved like fallen trees hanging over a walking trail.

Anonymous said...

Who is overseeing how that referendum money is being spent? I suspect the only reason we know about this is the number is so large. I'd bet there's lot's of a $1,000 here and a $1,000 there being spent that shouldn't be. Do we really need those apparently very pricey trash containers?