Is Anyone Listening? November 20, 2019
Town Meeting was held on Monday, November 18, 2019 at the Seekonk High School. Thanks to those who took the time to be in attendance, for important financial spending scheduled ahead for our community. Please bear in mind that less than 2% of registered voters (tax paying residents) made decisions that will ultimately cost residents more than two million dollars. Our current government system does not accurately reflect the will of the town.
Town Administration provided current balances of all the resources available to draw from along with the pending action to be voted on that evening. These balances are crucial for deciding the source of funding per project and what shall remain with affirmative votes. Keep this in mind, however, as this article moves forward, spending does not have to occur “just because the money is there.”
Let me start by stating that Article #1- “is to receive the reports of Town Officers, or Committees, if any and act thereon, or take any action relative thereto.” In the simplest terms it means to inform the town meeting audience the current standing of projects, spending updates and forward planning.
The problem is, not every Committee working with a budget, whether it is from a debt exclusion, taxpayer dollars/free cash, grants received, or any other means when funding is raised is reported.
Many times, Committees come before Town Meeting and ask for a small amount of money through a warrant article and fail to inform us that they may return to ask for more. Substantially more. Case in point, Article #4-asked for and received $200,000 from Free Cash for engineering services for the design, plans specifications and estimates of proposed addition of a turf athletic field and renovations including demolition and site preparation and all other incidental and related costs. In Layman’s terms this means explore, design and build a turf athletic field known to most of us seniors as “the football field” with further renovations to the complex at the High School.
Why didn’t the Superintendent of Schools and the Chairperson of the School Committee provide information associated with the “estimated” cost and scope of the project. They were asked if they had a comparison cost analysis of turf vs natural grass. They were asked about potential safety issues to athletes. Injuries such as foot, ankle, knee and hip injuries specifically. For each of these very important subjects the answer was no. They also did not offer the estimated final price tag amounting to approximately $1.7 to $1.9 million dollars. This information was drawn out by an audience member, for whom if it weren’t asked, it wouldn’t be offered. Voters must be informed with more than “do it for the children” or “to compete at a championship level.” More information was required and not provided yet it was spent “just because the money is there”.
Here is some additional information regarding artificial turf fields.
While grass may cause common injuries such as ankle sprains, but turf fields are likely to cause more serious injuries like ACL, MCL issues and muscle tears.
When compared with artificial turf on playing fields, natural grass provides good traction, which, is better than the great traction provided by artificial turf which means the turf has no 'give'. The super traction on artificial turf can cause injury. A recent survey by the National Football League Players Association found that a majority of NFL players favored natural grass over artificial turf; 82 percent said they thought artificial turf triggers more injuries than natural grass does.
The Ecological Benefits of Natural Grass
- A 2,500 square ft. field of natural grass can release enough oxygen for a family of four for an
- Natural grass absorbs carbon dioxide, which is extremely important when considering the
effects of natural vs. artificial grass on global warming.
- Beneficial organisms reside in natural grass and topsoil; these organisms efficiently break
down and recycle both inorganic and organic elements which land on the grass.
- Natural grass filters rainwater before it flows into the groundwater.
- Natural grass is much cooler than artificial turf, asphalt, cement or bare dirt.
- Most people prefer the smell and appearance of natural grass.
- Natural grass repairs and regenerates itself; artificial turf requires expensive repair by specialty contractors
- Removing and disposing of artificial turf is both difficult and expensive. End-of-life disposal
costs for natural grass is a tiny fraction of the cost for artificial turf.
- Natural grass prevents soil erosion
- When interviewed, a whopping 96 percent of NFL players believed artificial turf leads to more sore muscles and fatigue than natural grass, and 91 percent believed artificial turf is much more likely to contribute to a serious injury than natural grass.
- A recent study found the average temperature of artificial turf between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. was 117 degrees with a high of 157 degrees. In stark contrast, natural grass had an average temperature of 78.19 degrees with a high of 88.5 degrees under the same conditions.
- Over a period of eight years, when installation and maintenance costs are combined, natural grass is the more affordable choice, according to a study done by Springfield College.
Professional athletes have consistently shown a preference for playing on real grass. FIFA commissioned an 18-month study to gauge elite soccer players' attitudes towards grass vs. artificial turf. In total, responses from 1129 players from 44 different countries were analyzed. The majority of players expressed a strong preference for the use of Natural Turf fields over alternatives such as Artificial Turf. According to the study, approximately three-quarters of players felt that all top-level games should be played on grass.
We need to study all the facts before spending more than two million dollars on artificial turf. In talking with several communities and colleges that have gone the route of artificial turf, none of them was completely satisfied. Complaints ranged from the upkeep, cost to repair and more importantly player complaints. No matter how far technology has come, there is simply no substitute for green, healthy, fragrant natural grass.
Moving on to the new playground. Article #16 was submitted by the Board of Selectmen and its purpose was to spend $357,000.00 for recreational use, specifically the design, construction and furnishing of a playground to be located at Town Hall. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) generously gave $300,000 from the funds collected on an annual basis through a percentage of your tax dollar.
CPC is regulated through state law and funding use must be clearly defined. Prior to voting on this article, the Chairman of CPC never disclosed the balances available to the audience. It had to be asked for by an audience member.
Information needed to make a sound decision and once again had to be drawn out of a town official. Thankfully the Finance Director provided what was needed. What followed was why the CPC isn’t providing the entire amount.
Granted, $300,000 from undesignated funds that total $1,182.429.22. The $300,000 is generous. Yet the response from the chairman to the question why didn’t they fund the full amount was not acceptable. He said, “Because we don’t want to” and there are “other projects in the pipeline.” He also said, “why should we spend it just because it’s there?” None of those projects or their estimated value was presented to justify this statement but “let’s do this for the children.”
The remaining funds in the amount of $57,000 came from the town’s checking account also known as Free Cash.” Why? Because it was there.
Leaders responsible for funding projects of any kind need to provide the voters with more information. The lack of information is just not acceptable. Something is wrong when residents need to draw information out.
The last point to be made about Town Meeting is Article #15-adding to the overlay district. The basis of the Article wasn’t a problem and quite understandable. The bigger question is legality. The audience was informed the Planning Board, who submitted the article, met to vote the recommendation.
They were informed that (3) members of the Board met and informed the Moderator of their decision. Through the Moderator the question was asked when was this meeting posted? The response from Counsel was typical legal speak in that she said the AG Office approves of meetings prior to vote the same night as Town Meeting. She misled us, as the AG office states that it’s OPINION is to allow for such meetings. However, if argued in court, do you really think that a judge would allow for two critical meetings to go on simultaneously without proper notification and input from the public? I doubt it. There are many instances that committees meet PRIOR to town meeting, but those meetings, if needed, are posted 48 hours in advance and are open to the public.
The problem this time is no one confirms a legal posting. Through the Moderator the question was asked about the (3) members who allegedly voted. Again, Counsel slid past the question deferring to her previous statement about the AG Office. Bottom line, questions asked, and information not properly provided. The Open Meeting Law appears to have been violated and Counsel had no answer. Guess what? We paid for her services too.
The Article failed through no fault of the Voters, but instead Leaders and Town Counsel.
To those who took the time to come to listen and vote again, thank you. Leaders need to be better prepared for an explanation of spending tax dollars and making changes to our community. Without proper information, Voters have the right to say “no” even if the item in question is for children because spending money just because it’s there is just NOT acceptable.
Again, it is ethically wrong that less than 2%, of voting residents make decisions that impact all of us. That it isn’t the fault of elected and appointed leaders that this happens is a weak argument. When elected officials want to drum up support and attendance for a town meeting they will have police make phone calls alerting people to a town meeting, provide bus service, child care service, etc. to ensure a larger attendance. The more people, the more opinions and information that can be shared and considered.
Seekonk Concerned Citizens