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Bath council narrowly OKs $300K bond for turf field

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Bath council narrowly OKs $300K bond for turf field

BATH — The City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday evening in favor of borrowing up to $300,000 for all-weather turf at McMann Field.

The vote mirrored a preliminary tally a month ago.

The council this time granted final passage to authorize a bond, which will fund the purchase and installation of 90,000 square feet of turf. It will be repaid over 10 years at $35,000 a year including interest, through the city’s Parks and Recreation Department account.

Councilors Wayne Cochrane, James Omo, Mari Eosco, Andrew Winglass and Chairman Bernard Wyman, voting to break the tie, supported the bond. Councilors Sean Paulhus, Kyle Rogers, David Sinclair and Ruthe Pagurko were opposed.

Every councilor voted the same way when they granted first passage on Jan. 6. Council discussion and public comment on Wednesday lasted more than two hours.

Opponents questioned spending the money in tough economic times, along with potential safety and environmental concerns. Proponents lauded the benefits of a sturdier field that can be used more often and could attract more events and revenue. They also argued that such a field can be safer on athletes.

The Fields for Our Future Committee, which approached the City Council about borrowing the money, has raised about $270,000 for the project. Brad Walfield, co-chairman of the committee, said the turf field’s approximately $570,000 cost is about $250,000 below market value.

Field installation is slated for June.

Steve Balboni, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said his office has evaluated the city’s facilities and determined the McMann project should be done this year.

"It has the greatest impact on all of our facilities," Balboni said. "It has the greatest impact on all the athletes and students that take part in programs,” as well as physical education classes.

He said his department would be responsible for maintaining the field and paying back the loan.

“The plan of this proposal is that the revenues generated from this facility will fund the payback of the loan,” Balboni said, adding that he is committed to no tax increase for his department's budget for fiscal 2011.

Responding to concerns that his department will undertake too great a burden, Balboni said, “every year our department is responsible for raising 55 percent of our overall budget, $450,000. Every year we’re responsible for raising that $250,000. So the added increase of $35,000 changes that to 58 percent. … We’re already in the business of raising revenues in order to make our department maintain our facilities.”

Balboni also speculated, based on results at other turf fields, that McMann’s field could last 10 to 15 years. He suggested a fund be established that would pay for a replacement.

Jackie Dwinal of Washington Street called the turf field discretionary spending; a luxury and not a need.

“You should vote no for this fiscally irresponsible project,” she said. “The federal government, the state government are both in grave trouble because of irresponsible spending. Let’s not join their ranks.”

Dugan Shipway of Washington Street, the former president of Bath Iron Works, noted that “quite frankly, this is discretionary money. But for my opinion, this is an excellent use of discretionary funds. There clearly is some financial risk … but there also is a much more important opportunity. This is responsible spending for our community. It will send a signal to others that we’re a city willing to take a reasonable risk even in hard times, because that’s the community we are, and that’s what we want to do.”

Pagurko said she visited more than 125 homes to ask how residents felt about the project.

“Their comment was, they’re not against the program; they’re against the timing,” she said. “They don’t feel that right now is the right time to spend the money to do the field. I have to vote the way the people of my ward have talked to me.”

Sinclair noted that financial projections do not take into account the fact that the city will one day have to replace the turf field.

“When I weigh the facts against those projections,” he said, “to me the only reasonable outcome here seems to be not to support it.”

Winglass pointed out that the annual expenditure would be $35,000 out of a $28 million budget, adding that “we’re getting … (an) $850,000 field for $300,000. That’s the financial fact.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.