Township council gave town manager Scott Carew its blessing Monday to seek bids for improvements to three township athletic fields.
The project, otherwise known as the K.I.D.S. Initiative, includes upgrades to (new turf field, parking improvements), Wesley Bishop South (irrigation and refurbishment of the grass field, fencing), and (drainage improvements, new lights).
The township has estimated it will cost around $4 million to do all three fields, including interest.
Carew described the project as an “investment” for the township.
“I do think the fields are a benefit beyond the direct user,” he said. “It is a very important amenity that young families looking to move to the area, it’s right near the top of the list. Our fields do not stand up well to the surrounding towns. They just don’t.”
The township’s plans to use money from the Open Space Trust Fund (OSTF) to pay for the field improvements among a large contingent of residents who argued the funds should only be used for acquiring and maintaining open space for conservation, based on their interpretation of the interpretive statement for the 2007 Open Space referendum.
Township officials saw otherwise.
Carew has proposed a potential compromise: The creation of a “recreation trust account,” funded through business sponsorships and naming rights, that could be used to (at least partially) pay for the improvement projects, as well as ongoing field maintenance.
“The project will be bonded,” he explained. “How that’s paid down, we’ll have options. We’ll evaluate every year how best to serve that debt.”
Carew said it’s possible, depending on how well this proposed recreation trust account does, there could be years where the township doesn’t have to use any OSTF money to pay down the debt on the field projects. The various athletic clubs in town would help manage the trust account.
“I’m pretty sure I have unanimous support among the sports groups,” said Carew, though creating the framework for the trust account is still in the preliminary stages, he added, and there’s no way yet to tell how much it would raise.
The township collects approximately $464,000 each year through the Open Space tax levy of 1¢ per $1,000 of assessed value. There’s presently about $1.6 million in the OSTF. Carew said the current incarnation of the Open Space tax lasts until 2028. The anticipated revenue from the tax over the next 17 years is roughly $13 million, according to Carew, with about $11 million in anticipated spending, which includes funding the entire K.I.D.S. project from the OSTF.
However, the $11 million in estimated expenditures does not include any new open space acquisition, nor does it take into account the potential devaluation of the township’s total ratable base if it goes through with a reassessment, which .
Mark Hines, co-founder of Moorestown Save Open Space (MSOS), a group advocating the use of Open Space funds solely for open space acquisition and maintenance, accurately pointed out if the value of the ratable base drops, so does the amount of money collected through the Open Space tax.
Carew acknowledged, in order for the township to continue collecting the same amount of revenue, the Open Space tax would need to be raised if property values drop (a near certainty given the market).
Some members of the audience also questioned the wisdom of installing artificial turf at Wesley Bishop North, since it would possibly need to be replaced in another 10 to 15 years.
James Ruddiman, an associate with Alaimo, the project engineers, said the typical lifespan of a turf field is up to 12 years. But with proper maintenance and somewhat limited use it could last for several more, he added.
Carew said the three fields will be bid out as separate projects.
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