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Petition gatherers hope to overturn Bath turf field bond

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Petition gatherers hope to overturn Bath turf field bond

BATH — Residents, including a city councilor, are collecting signatures for a petition to reverse a council vote to borrow money for artificial turf at McMann Field.

The City Council voted 5-4 on Feb. 3 to borrow up to $300,000 for the 90,000-foot surface. The bond will be repaid over 10 years at $35,000 annually, including interest, through the city's Parks and Recreation Department account.

The Fields for Our Future committee raised about $270,000 for the project and asked the City Council to approve borrowing the remaining funds.

Proponents of the turf field say its durability and ability to be used more often will attract more events and revenue. Opponents maintain that the project is an unnecessary luxury in the current economic climate.

Jackie Dwinal of Washington Street, an outspoken opponent of the borrowing, is among those gathering petition signatures. She said last week that 755 signatures must be obtained and turned into the city clerk's office by Feb. 23.

Dwinal said the petition calls for repeal of the bond ordinance approved by the City Council and a voter referendum on June 8 on whether the bond should be funded.

“It's a matter of putting the spending of the taxpayer money in their own hands,” said Kyle Rogers, one of the four councilors who twice voted against bonding. “... I said from the get-go that the voters should be saying whether or not we should be spending this money, and handing $300,000 over to a citizens group that, in my opinion, fell short of their fundraising goal.”

“Everyone in Bath will have a say on this; that's what we're hoping,” Dwinal said. “Some people just don't want this at all; they say it's a big extravagance for Bath and they don't think it should be there ... Other people are saying they don't want to pay for it.”

She asserted that “the project should be totally, privately funded.”

Responding to concerns that the Recreation Department will ultimately have to increase its assessment to Regional School Unit 1 to shoulder the bond payments, department Director Steve Balboni said last week that will not be the case.

“(The assessment) would stay the same for this project; for the 10 years it would be the same assessment,” he said.

Balboni explained that the school's capital assessment from his department would remain the same during that time, but that the operational assessment – separate from the turf field project and related to school usage of athletic facilities – could rise or fall. Another school-related project in the future could impact the capital assessment, but the turf field project will not, Balboni said.

He said he was surprised to hear about the petition.

“It's really unfortunate,” Balboni said, adding that the petition will delay the turf installation, “which will then eliminate half the (fall rental fee) revenue (for that fiscal year) that was projected to pay for the turf. Because if you're after the fall season for an install, you just missed the whole fall season for the revenues.”

Installation, originally slated to start this July, is pushed to around late November because of the referendum process, Balboni said.

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