Turf Field at the High School a Matter of Numbers
How months of planning for a new turf field fell apart.
On Dec. 22, the athletic field at Montville Township High School, home to, among others, the school's football team, marching band and field corps, was as close as it has ever been to being upgraded from grass to artificial turf, thanks to a referendum scheduled to be voted on by township residents at the end of January.
On Dec. 23, it was back to square one.
The cancellation of the Board of Education's referendum due to an increased taxpayer burden ends the most recent effort to replace the grass field with artificial turf.
"It's a shame," Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino said. "It's something that a lot of us would like to see done, but it just wasn't the right time."
Though efforts have been made to replace the field since 2005, the current Board of Education's efforts to see artificial turf at the high school began at the Oct. 5 board meeting, in which board member Charlie Grau proposed that the Board of Education work with Turf the Valley and see if township voters wanted a new field.
"Turf the Valley has been doing a great job, but they've got a long way to go to raise the money needed to turf the field," he said at the meeting. "I think its fair to have the Board of Education either step up or step down on this. Let's see what the figures are. I know the economy is bad, but I'd like to bring this to closure."
Cortellino said at that meeting that she was in favor of a referendum, but felt that the board needed more information before moving forward with the idea.
"I agree with Charile that something has to be done, but I am very concerned about the vitality of the referendum," she said, citing concerns about costs.
While some members of the board expressed concerns about the timing and cost of the measure, by the Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting, in which the board asked Business Administrator Jim Tevis to begin the 60-day process of preparing the referendum, it seemed that the township would get a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Members of the Turf the Valley organization, including committee member Carmen Cerreto, who said the group would help to offset the cost of organizing the referendum, greeted the idea of a referendum warmly.
"Turf the Valley has raised $100,000," he said at the Nov. 16 meeting. "We're prepared to offer a check for $35,000 to cover the cost of filing for a referendum. That will leave us with $60,000 and I pledge that money will be placed in an account to pay interest on the project. We will do whatever we can do not to abandon this project."
The board officially approved the referendum at its Dec. 14 meeting. As a result, township residents would be given a chance to vote on whether or not they were willing to incur an increase in taxes to pay for the project, which was not to exceed $990,000.
However, the issue will not go to its Jan. 25 election date, as the Board of Education cancelled its referendum at a special meeting on Dec. 23 due to an error in the estimated tax burden on the township.
According to Tevis, the original estimated tax increase per average household was roughly $5 over five years. After reviewing the numbers with some consultants, however, Tevis said the estimated cost would be closer to $25 per household.
"During the preparation for the referendum, it was determined that the tax levy amount per household would be higher than originally projected," the board said in a statement. "As a result, the board decided it was inappropriate to move forward at this time."
The Board of Education's next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11. Representatives from Turf the Valley could not be reached.