UPDATED: Compromise on Open Space Debate?
A letter from Moorestown council members Chris Chiacchio and Stacey Jordan to the Open Space Advisory Committee may signal a turn in the conversation on Open Space spending.
UPDATE: Check out the attached PDF for the full text of the letter from council members Chris Chiaccio and Stacey Jordan to the Open Space Advisory Committee.
In a letter to the Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC), Councilman Chris Chiacchio and Councilwoman Stacey Jordan seem to signal the potential for a compromise in the ongoing, increasingly contentious debate over how to spend the Open Space Trust Fund.
Chiacchio and Jordan have long opposed the use of the Trust Fund for the Wesley Bishop North project. But they struck a different tone in a recent letter to OSAC chair Maura Dey.
Dey, reached for comment Tuesday night following an OSAC meeting, paraphrased the council members’ letter, stating, “(They) didn’t think it was positive for the town that we would have to write this check for $1.5 million from the fund.”
Town council voted 3-2 last month in favor of appropriating $1.5 million from the Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund for improvements to Wesley Bishop North, with Chiacchio and Jordan providing the dissenting votes. The expenditure of the money has since been tabled while council awaits a judgment on STEM’s (Save the Environment of Moorestown) lawsuit against the township.
Chiacchio’s and Jordan's letter, according to Dey, sought an opinion from OSAC on whether it would potentially endorse any use of the fund toward the field project. Dey said the letter “wasn’t specifying any kind of commitment at all,” but she alluded to the possible use of the fund as a means to pay off debt service for the project over a number of years.
Bonding for the project would cost approximately $127,000 per year, minus roughly $45,000/year in commitments from the athletic clubs, she said.
Township manager Scott Carew explained that, while council approved the $1.5 million appropriation from the fund, it still has the ability to specify how those funds are spent—including paying off debt service from a bond. Council’s prior attempts to bond the project, which would not have involved the use of the Trust Fund, failed due to dissenting votes from Jordan and Chiacchio, who opposed the timing of the project and its potential impact on taxpayers.
Dey read a letter from OSAC to council the night they approved the $1.5 million for the Wesley Bishop project. In that letter (which can be read in its entirety in the attached PDF), OSAC asks council to “reconsider the raiding of this fund for a single purpose … It is our strong belief that the dedicated use of the Open Space Trust Fund be largely preserved for use for the conservation and acquisition of open space.”
Dey reiterated the committee’s position Tuesday night, saying, “Where I would like to go with any recommendation is the fund be primarily saved for open space acquisition and preservation.”
However, Dey also said, “I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that we need to have some sort of compromise,” adding the ongoing quarrels over the use of the Trust Fund and the council members' subsequent letter are “a reality check of where things are with our town in general.”
OSAC discussed the matter Tuesday, but took no action. Dey said in light of recent developments, including the letter, the committee will formulate a recommendation, vote on it, and, if approved by the majority, present it to council in much the same way she presented the previous letter.
Chiacchio could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday night.