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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.

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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 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.”

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 .

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, , 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.

Taking Notice August 15, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Wow, impressed by Chiaccho on this one. Good for him, hope it works
kristen babcock August 15, 2012 at 01:28 PM
A compromise? Do people still engage in such things???
Roger August 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Folks, Once again, let's kick the can down the road. Are we going through this same exercise for the next field that "needs" artificial turf? Once a precedent is set it will open the "slush" fund up for all types of pet projects. What is even worse is the idea of using these funds for the payments on bonds. So not only will we spend money that we do not yet have, we will spend money and obligate the next generation to pay it off. Not only that, but we probably will never pay it off as undoubtedly the field will "need" to be replaced because it is "unsafe" before the bonds are paid off. Also, lets make certain we understand the cost; roughly $100,000 PER YEAR for ONE FIELD. I am glad to see that our local officials are learning from our federal government; spend all you want today and let future generations worry about paying it off.
Main Street August 15, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I am sensing a Mayor Chiacchio come January? Looking good.
Tom August 15, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Another case of I was against it before I was for it. Congratulations on rising to the level of a true politician. How does this answer the legal challenge of "such lands". It is still illegal.
Ann DiBlasio August 15, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Paying down a debt service is specifically not an allowed use of Open Space monies
G. Williams August 15, 2012 at 02:53 PM
It surely is always about compromise isn't it. Kudos to the folks who are trying to resolve the issue of funding sports projects without draining the open space fund, or completely undermining its' intended purpose. It appears that the township, OSAC, and the KIDS proponents may come up with a solution where all will participate, and hopefully in a fair and acceptible manner. I understand that Councilmembers Chiacchio and Jordan have been meeting with Councilman Gallo to find a fair solution that will not put the OS fund in jepordy. If the OSAC votes to accept a compromise, maybe they could do so with the stipulation that the governing ordinance be revisited and improved in a way that avoids misinterpretation or unintended use of the fund in the future. The discontent, fingerpointing and unfounded comments by sideliners on this issue are damaging to community spirit and cohesiveness. Let's hope it works out.
Anthony Mazza August 15, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Compromise? Really? In Moorestown? That's POSSIBLE?! I'm really, really impressed here!!! Good job by Chiacchio (and if the guy above is right, good job by Gallo and Jorden too!) There may be hope for this town yet!!!!!
HomeBrew August 15, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Mr. Williams: Always appreciate your comments and respect your point of view. Likewise, deeply appreciate Mr. Chiacchio's efforts throughout the long syn-turf battle. However, I fail to see how his proposal is a compromise. This boils down to using OS tax funds (property tax funds, too, I gather) for a second, 1M+ syn-turf field at WBNorth. With all due respect, council should clarify the governing ordinance first, then determine how to properly disburse OS funds. That's the proper and fair way to proceed.
Ed Nice August 15, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Homebrew I can't believe I have to agree with you on asking what is the compromise. This is exactly what JB has been proposing all along...bond and use OS funds to pay for KIDS. Glad to see J/C agree its all legal and OK now though! Hey Hines now what??? LOL!!
Ed Nice August 15, 2012 at 04:16 PM
See #6. Looks pretty specific to me. 1. Acquisition of lands for recreation and conservation purposes; 2. Development of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes; 3. Maintenance of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes; 4. Acquisition of farmland for farmland preservation purposes; 5. Historic preservation of historic properties, structures, facilities, sites, areas, or objects, and the acquisition of such properties, facilities, sites, areas, or objects for historic preservation purposes; and, 6. Payment of debt service on indebtedness issued or incurred by a county or municipality for any of the purposes set forth above.
Confusion August 15, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I'm confused. is this deal just for the turf field or is it also for the flag field and the lights and the rec center? how much is the turf cost really and how much are all of the other pieces?
Ed ex August 15, 2012 at 05:34 PM
George W. how could the 3 of them meet to discuss a compromise without breaking the law?
JJ Jet August 15, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Good for Councilmember Chiacchio for doing this. Took some guts, and shows some real leadership. Kudos.
Ed ex August 15, 2012 at 06:24 PM
KUDOS to Jordan and Chiacchio for raiding the open space fund along with GBT!
Air JJ August 15, 2012 at 06:41 PM
This is ridiculous clumsily believe he would just go ahead and do that? How about the communication? Doesn't it seem some people are so disorganized? Doesn't he want to talk with some of us first? Just send an email or just hop on the phone and call? Tell me in your mind what you think? If you had such an idea like that, what would you say? Doesn't that get you pissed?
Rob Scott (Editor) August 15, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Based on what's in the letter and my conversation with Councilman Chiacchio, this is just about the Wesley Bishop North project (i.e. the turf field—though there are several other components to that project).
Bill August 15, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Council already voted, and approved, use of 1.5 million from the fund. They await the judges decision. If he says no, they can't use the money period. If he says yes, the work starts. What difference does it make what the people at OSAC think or wish at this point ?
Air JJ August 15, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Yeah that's my point why not talk to te few of us, hop on the phone and call. You guys seem disorganized, right? I don't what just happened these past few days..
Ed ex August 15, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I don't know what happened either. I hope that Newcomer, Sattingger and Hines will fight this.
G. Williams August 15, 2012 at 09:14 PM
HomeBrew, This is just my own opinion, but I thought a compromise of utilizing a much smaller amount of the Open Space fund for the fields would protect the reserves, and avoid a million and a half raid on the fund. I agree that there should be a proper clarification of the governing ordinance, especially defining its future use. I am both hopeful and concerned about the upcoming decision by Judge Bookbinder, hopeful that "such lands" does apply, but concerned that the local ordinance could be interpreted as sidesteping the intent of the statute. I understand that the recent communications amount to nothing more than a request for an opinion from OSAC on whether it would endorse any use of the fund towards a field project. I am not privy to the specifics of the use, repairs or improvements. I am confident that OSAC will thoroughly review the options. To Ed ex, I don't the setting in which the three members of Council had their discussion. I assume you don't either. It could have been with the other two, but only three were mentioned to me.
CP August 15, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Great stuff,,,,,,go Chiacco!
Ed ex August 15, 2012 at 09:35 PM
The fund is for acquisition only! That was our intent when we started it and I hope we win the lawsuit. Councilman Chiacchio doesn't need to ask OSAC to change their position to cover up his flip flop. We supported him and now he is abandoning us so he can be mayor. I hope Bob and the campaign find out more about these illegal meetings between Jordan, Chiaccho and Gallo.
Confusion August 15, 2012 at 09:53 PM
I'm confused. I thought this issue was about ball fields then i thought it was about open space then i thought this issue was about funding and taxes but now you are saying its about politics. what gives? the letter that patch posted sounds like politics. is it?
G. Williams August 15, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Ed ex, Actually, it is for acquision, including preservation and maintinence of such lands. Councilman Chiacchio asked for your opinion. I didn't hear him say he would ignore it. Why would you say he abandoned OSAC simply because he asked, or feels that somewhere there is a solution. Your charge that there were illegal meetings are only based on a pie in the sky assumption, as is your Mayor comment. Your comments seem to mirror the rants of others who want to drain Open Space. I didn't think any of the Open Space supporters operated on that level.
Ed Forrest August 16, 2012 at 03:30 AM
This is what leadership looks like.
Bill August 16, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Ed ex- well if that was your intent you did a horrible job writing the ordinance. Even if you win, it won't restrict use to just acquisition. The judge has already ruled on that part of it. Maybe you should go read it again since you don't seem to know what it states.
Tax Playa August 16, 2012 at 03:49 PM
What does it look like? Going back to the original proposal of two years ago and making it look like it is your idea? That's funny! If you just eliminated the rec director position and all its pension and benefits, you'd free up over $120 k. That is enough to fund the debt service on over $2 MM in capital improvements to recreation. Now that would be leadership!
Observer August 16, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Rent other town's turf fields like we are renting town. That is the least expensive solution!
HomeBrew August 19, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Ed: Glad we agree. Let's keep it up. Just so we're on the same page, I should label anyone who calls this proposal a "compromise" a "liar," right?

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