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‘Maybe We Need to Set an Example’

Two Moorestown council members are seeking a compromise on using Open Space funds for the Wesley Bishop North project, but one member of STEM doesn't like the proposal.

After more than a year of factious disagreement over Open Space spending, Councilman Chris Chiacchio believes it’s time to end the squabbling.

In a recent letter addressed to Maura Dey, chair of the Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC), Chiacchio—writing on behalf of himself and Councilwoman Stacey Jordan—.

Up until now, Chiacchio and Jordan have staunchly opposed the use of the fund for improvements at . They’ve also voted against bonding the project, raising concerns over timing and taxpayer impact.

Last month, , prompting . Following those actions, Chiacchio and Jordan together drafted a letter to Dey and OSAC seeking their support in a potential compromise.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about fields for kids. Maybe we need to set an example for our kids and stop bickering,” the councilman said. “Really the motivation was to try to bring people back together.”

Chiacchio worries the STEM suit could be detrimental to the township, . If the judge sides with the township, the Trust Fund could take a serious hit, with all $1.5 million being drawn out of the fund—an action Chiacchio still strongly opposes. If the judge sides with STEM and takes a strict interpretation of the Open Space ordinance, the township loses the ability to expend the fund for important and much less controversial uses, i.e. maintenance of .

“That would leave a gaping hole in our budget,” Chiacchio said.

Spurred on by fears over the consequences of the lawsuit, Chiacchio and Jordan drafted the letter to Dey to find out whether OSAC would endorse any use of the fund for the project—specifically whether it would support “an annual contribution from the OS fund to be applied to the debt service.”

Over a 15-year bond, the Wesley Bishop North project would cost approximately $127,000 a year, minus $45,000/year in commitments from two athletic clubs and a “generous” resident, Chiacchio wrote in the letter. . Chiacchio added that he would “hold the clubs to their word” on the commitments.

Asked whether there’s a specific dollar amount from Open Space he’d find acceptable, Chiacchio said, “I don’t have any number in mind. That’s why I asked (OSAC).”

Jordan could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mayor John Button, who voted in favor of using the Trust Fund as a “last resort,” was encouraged by the letter from Chiacchio and Jordan.

“I believe the township wants to see council pulling together,” said Button. “If we can find a way to get to (a compromise), I think that would be wonderful.”

The mayor insisted he was never a proponent of whittling down the Trust Fund to any great degree.

“All five council people are committed to open space,” he said.

Chiacchio said his goal—assuming the OSAC endorses the use of the fund—is to rescind the earlier resolution appropriating the $1.5 million and come up with a plan to bond the project.

“Once that’s rescinded, I’m guessing the lawsuit would be moot,” he said. “Not everyone’s going to agree with us. I just hope they see that Stacey and I have the town’s best interest at heart.”

But a member of STEM, speaking anonymously because he didn’t want to speak on behalf of the entire group, said it’s doubtful STEM would drop its lawsuit if council moved forward with any kind of plan to use the Trust Fund for the Wesley Bishop project.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s $1, $100,000, $1.5 million—it’s not a proper, legal use of the fund,” he said. “This isn’t a compromise … I believe (STEM) will not be in favor of any use of the funds (other than for acquisition and preservation).”

The STEM member said the issue is one of setting a precedent, calling the use of the fund for this project “a slippery slope.”

“Why don’t we bond for it out of the operating budget and reap all the rewards from the sponsorships and commitments that will be coming in?” he wondered.

Chiacchio acknowledged if the lawsuit continued despite he and Jordan’s proposed compromise, “that’s an issue.”

“Compromise is a good thing,” he said. “I know, as an attorney, at some point you’ve got to talk settlement.”

To read the full text of Chiacchio's and Jordan's letter, click on the PDF above.

Observer August 16, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Actually, just putting the large expenses to a vote would solve a multitude of disputes.
G. Williams August 16, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Confusion, It isn't about power seeking on the part of OSAC. These are community volunteers appointed to serve on a board, who see their responsibility as one of acquision, and preservation (including upkeep) of open space lands that would or could otherwise be over developed, or used in a manner out of character with the town. They know the Open Space fund is not their money, but they do have shared authority over its use. Since they are a board and not a commission they do not have autonomy. Thus, Council is the final authority, but only within the limits of the governing ordinance which is why there is a pending suit. I am rusty, so there may be some grey area there. Whether or not committees, or more common, boards have authority depends on their designation. Advisory boards are just that. Planning and Zoning have final authority unless appealed. Mindy, I don't see anything in the ordinance that would exclude installing turf or other uses described in the ordinance on lands that were purchased with OS funds, if Council wanted to redesignate the use of those lands. What you are reading on the Patch are varying opinions from folks representing both sides of the issue, or who have different views as to how the OS funds can be utilized. With a little logic you can filter out some of it. Unless there is a meeting of the minds, and a subsequent rewording of the ordinance, Judge Bookbinder will have the final word on how the funds sre used.
G. Williams August 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Observer, In fairness to the Council, you elected them to govern the town. You can't also pick and choose what responsibilities they have by usurping their authority every time there is opposition to a project or different views of an issue. You can unelect them. Any Council would have much more information and detail on any given topic then the public does when making informed decisions. Of course, they also have a responsibility to be transparent to the extent that they are allowed. If major decisions were always put to the public, divisions would form, solicitations and misinformation would abound, and little would be accomplished. I built the Gazebo park in Maple Shade with about 10% of the cost being borne by the twp, and still there was negative feedback over its' cost and design. Sidewalk supers were plentiful until you handed them a tool.
Confusion August 17, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Thanks for the clarification. The term shared authority is bit scary. Do all of the other committees in town have shared authority? If so hope councilman Chiachio and the rest of council respect the authority and follow their advice.
Tax Playa August 17, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Really? How do you know that? I am sure most residents would love to save money on services. If our budget is over $20 MM then pensions at 5% are over $1,000,000 per year. That is ridiculous! I say privatize everything possible. If not the county, then a private company could run our library for less money? Has anyone looked at that? That would be Leadership! Thinking outside the box and moving our tax base toward the free market system. Thoughts?
Tax Playa August 17, 2012 at 01:38 AM
GW - is it right that the council can bond a project for $15 MM without a vote? I think not. Ask anyone with kids in the town which they'd rather have: $3 MM improvement to recreation facilities which support over 4000 children or a $15 MM town majal that supports 30 non-performers that can't get fired? It is pretty clear to me.....
Patricia White August 17, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Playa: I'm not in agreement with your assessment of the value of a new town hall versus plastic fields and I respect the fact that these two hot button items have their supporters and detractors. However, I do take exception to your characterization of our township employees as "non-performers." In my experience of more than 30 years in Moorestown I have never dealt with more professional, hard-working and congenial people than those we are fortunate to have working in the administration offices and in the township library.
Tax Playa August 17, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Pat, from muck-raking to brown-nosing, you sure have range!
Patricia White August 17, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Your nasty response was expected. I'm not "brown-nosing" although I realized I would be tagged with that. However, I think your gratuitous cheap shots of collectively condemning the work ethic of our public employees merited a response. By the way, I don't consider "muck-raking" a negative moniker. So, unfortunately, you have failed to offend me.
Summer Stage August 17, 2012 at 03:02 AM
if that small fire didn't happen, we would all be talking about rehabbing all four of our buildings not spending $15M. We wouldn't tear down buildings for kicks. So there was a fire and so council decided to down a building. And council did agree that town hall, library, police,and rec center would all stay on the current site. So now we see those have changed their minds. Interesting to see if tearing the town hall never happened where we would be.. Yep, rehabbing all four building not building new ones. So we should go forward with a new town hall and library or new police and back to rehabbing the library. Either way, we still have no idea if this current plan will even be happening? When is the next "discussion" happening in this? Wouldn't this be over 30 discussion" meetings on this?
Ed Nice August 17, 2012 at 03:03 AM
George the OSAC is an advisory committee same as EDAC or RAC both supported KIDS in 2011 and were ignored by J/C. Are we gonna ask EDAC what we should do about town hall or the library now...they should. in 2011 OSAC issued a letter by Bruce Shaw saying the funds were not to be used for KIDS....Our concern is that these funds be used for acquisition of open space. Period,” Bruce Shaw, chairman of the OSAC, said after the March 28 council meeting. “We prepared a recommendation that is being submitted to council.” Mayor John Button, a member of the Open Space Committee along with Shaw, Lisa Knell, Maura Dey, Deborah Hess, Jo Ann Kay, Barry O’Donnell and Betsy Schnorr, was the only member to abstain from voting to recommend council not use Open Space funds for the K.I.D.S. Initiative. Why is OSAC expected to flip flop when all J/C have to do is vote if that is what they want to do. I have spoken to Maura and Betsy about this and tried to explain how the law works and how STEM is being selfish so it will be interesting to see if they change their minds and admit the fund is allowed to do more than they said. I am still waiting for Mark Hines to agree with me, you J/C now and BGT that the uses are all LEGAL and admit he and his wife have been wrong and misleading people all along about legal uses and lost matching funds to scare people.
G. Williams August 17, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Summer, In all fairness, Council did seek bids to rehab the municipal complex buildings during 2010. The results were 15.7 to 21 million. The next and hopefully the last meeting regarding the details of the project is slated for Monday, August 20th, at 6pm, and prior to the Council meeting. The discussion will include ways of further reducing the project cost befor going to bid.
Cruella August 17, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Pat you are one bitter/negative person. You were against liquor and it passed 2 to 1, against fields for kids, against using OS money for maintenance or recreation (which would cause a tax increase), against Perkins, against Christmas decorations, you fight with the BOE and the MEA but claim "a new library is essential" and should be paid for by the taxpayers. You blogged "This is a town of beautiful neighborhoods whose public spaces are a disgrace" "Neighboring townships seem to be able to maintain their public spaces; have clean, updated libraries and some even have senior centers (not a shack with a card table and folding chairs)." to me this sounds like you think those responsible for it are not doing a very good job You wrote "As the last license in South Jersey sold last month in Cherry Hill for $500,000, it is improbable that the council will set the price for local licenses at twice that amount, as that would make no sense in the current market." they sold for more than $1 million each and with the money safely in hand you no longer complain about its benefits. About MSOS. "Had council honored the limitations of the statute, there would be no need for this group to form." You can see now that Jordan and Chiacchio support exactly what you attacked Gallo Button and Testa for. You supported the illegal petition by MSOS to change the word "recreation" in the law in direct violation of state law. One thing is clear. YOU ARE the weakest link. Good bye!
Patricia White August 17, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Cruella: Thanks for a good laugh. If I ever forget what I thought about something I'll be sure to contact you. Apparently your life is so void of meaning that you have chosen to keep tabs on mine.
Ex LAX August 17, 2012 at 10:32 AM
I pay more taxes than you so I have more say than you......
Summer Stage August 17, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Mr Williams were you one of those guys that got up to talk about the town complex but mr button wasn't interested in talking about it? Imo they seemed to have good questions and suggestions. Why aren't they having regular updates during a regular meeting? Do you think anything will get finalized by the end of this year?
Yah Mo B There August 17, 2012 at 11:50 AM
That's odd. The last 2 times I had to visit township employees it was a miserable experience. I was treated as if I was causing a disruption As I wrote checks for permits. Not very congenial. Anytime I call or try to call it a labyrinth of phone numbers and answering machines. It's the worst service possible. Not sure of who you're speaking about. Fortunatley this is a VERY RARE occurrence.
HomeBrew August 17, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Two sides, each threatening to detonate a bomb. One side, let's call them the Synners, would blow up the OS fund to pay for a second $1M+ syn-turf field at WBNorth. The other side, STEM, has sued to save the fund. But STEM's suit could blow a huge hole in the township budget that only a hefty property tax hike would fill. (That's because Council has been nicking the OS fund for the past several years to pay for, among other things, a hefty proportion of Public Works salaries.) Clearly, a compromise is in order. Much as I appreciate and respect Mr. Chiacchio and Ms. Jordon, their proposal is less compromise and more surrender. Here's my humble suggestion: Synners, abandon the WBNorth project. Be content that you've gotten or will get most of the "Project Formerly Known as KIDS." STEM, withdraw the lawsuit. The OS fund will continue to be nicked, but, thanks to you, it won't be wrecked. I believe most Moorestown residents would accept this compromise.
George August 17, 2012 at 05:07 PM
yeah "STEM is being selfish " but nobody lisens to them any ways so wats the diference?
HomeBrew August 18, 2012 at 01:53 PM
It's a Syn (turf): Council slips in $1.5M bond ordinance for second $1M+ syn-turf field at WBNorth on Monday agenda. Look for it on the agenda buried after the $12M municipal complex bond ordinance. http://www.moorestown.nj.us/filestorage/207/154/2143/488/3250/2012_08_20_agenda.pdf
Roger August 18, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Typical politicians!!! Issue bonds, spend it now and let someone else worry about paying for it. What a bunch of greedy selfish people!!! It's a shame that this is what our town has become....no wonder there are all the "For Sale" signs.
HomeBrew August 18, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Wonder where Council candidates (Ds and Rs) stand on this "compromise"?
MotownFan August 18, 2012 at 06:41 PM
But the OS fund has been used to subliment the maintenance budget for years. Will That money have to be returned..? Tom Lynch please explain.
MotownFan August 18, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Thanks George
MotownFan August 18, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I'm the first to foam at the mouth over an opportunity to shut the typically nasty mouth of Pat White BUT.... I agree in 25+ yrs never had ban encounter with any employee. From trash collectors to registering with Cindy at the rec. Same friendly faces for years.
Chris Garaliki August 19, 2012 at 01:56 PM
This is good news for both sides. It seems like it saves the majority of our open space cash but gives us our much needed fields. Very happy with this!
Pete August 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I’m pleased that Patch provides the forum for all this balderdash. You folks are all making political hash about serious problems in Moorestown, over which none of you have any control. Rather than backhanded snipes against each other and political posturing, I suggest that if you have a worthy solution, the email address of town Council is: towncouncil@moorestown.nj.us . Judge Bookbinder will decide the issue.
HomeBrew August 19, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Reminder: Council considers $1.5M bond ordinance Monday to fund a second million-dollar syn turf field at WBNorth.
Not gonna doo it August 19, 2012 at 08:50 PM
GW, as far as that gazebo and other things you claim bottom line is.. "you didn't build that". You needed the government for that. If you didn't have the roads and the bridge by forklanding road.
Tracker August 20, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Do they expect a big crowd?

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