MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township Committee has been debating the use of Open Space Trust fund money to pay for maintenance projects on buildings at community parks and facilities across the township. Members have varying opinions on the use of the funds, and with $640,000 in projects proposed by administration for the 2017 budget, the debate has continued across three meetings and continued at the Jan. 24 meeting.

The committee had a special, Saturday meeting on Jan. 21 and went through the projects item by item (described here) and Township Mayor Jim Sandham said members need to decide what needs to fall in the Open Space Trust Fund budget and what should be relegated to the general capital budget.

“There was a lot of discussion on the individual items [at the Jan. 21 meeting],” Sandham said, “and what we took away from that is that we need to have a macro-level discussion.”

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Sandham put together a chart plotting Open Space maintenance spending.

“Past Open Space land purchases are starting to be paid off,” Sandham said. The debt service is decreasing from approximately $1.2 million in 2017 to $400,000 in 2023, he said. Therefore, the amount of available cash in the fund is increasing.

“In 2013 we didn’t spend much,” Sandham said. “In 2014 we spent $175,000 to turf Camp Dawson. In 2015 we spent $140,000 for the additional parking lot at Community Park. We have started to morph use of the Trust Fund from just pure purchasing to maintenance and capital improvements.”

Committee Member Richard Conklin stated his belief that most of the money has been going towards active recreation, which generate their own funds, such as the soccer association. He said his eyes have been opened and he believes now that the properties should be “supported, to an extent.” He wished to come up with a formula for utilizing the funds.

Committee Member Richard Cook agreed, stating he didn’t want to spend a “tremendous amount” on maintenance, but to make sure the funds go to projects that “really fit the Open Space concept.”

An ongoing debate within the committee has been paying for lighting, because two proposed projects from administration this year are baseball field lighting at Masar Park and field and basketball court lighting at Community Park. The OS ordinance allows the funds to be used for “development” of a property, and Sandham mentioned this point.

“If you’re going to put tennis courts around town – and we’ve talked about that for a long time – if most people work during the day, you want them to be able to use them [in the evening],” Sandham said. “It falls under, once you acquire a property, how do you develop it so it’s used to the fullest extent for our citizens.”

Sandham proposed using approximately $250,000 per year on maintenance projects, but increasing the amount for 2017 to $500,000 since very little was spent in 2016. He also proposed decreasing the OS levy to 3.2 cents, which he estimated would refund $20-25 to taxpayers. He estimated that by 2021 the OS fund would be at $1 to $1.2 million, and the township committee at that time could decide what to do. He said that while still allowing $2.25 million in improvements, the Open Space Trust Fund would accumulate to about $3 million by 2024 instead of $4.8 million. He pointed out that the most recent OS purchases were subsidized by the state and the county, and land could be purchased with bonds.

Committee Member Deb Nielson did not support reducing the OS tax levy for 2017 since the debt doesn’t start rolling off for several years, she said. The town still has $1.2 million in debt to pay down in 2017, she said. She also said she is opposed to using OS funds to paint structures not located on properties acquired with OS funds.

“However, are we going to bond money to do work that clearly has to be done, or are we going to pay cash for it?” Nielson said. “We can purchase OS with or without this trust fund. But we have a kitty of money that can legally be used for maintaining and improving our public properties. The question is do we want to pay cash or bond for it?”

Sandham polled and Cook stated he was comfortable to spend OS as long as funds were available for purchasing land. He was uncomfortable with adding facilities such as lighting. He stated he was comfortable with $200,000 being spent on maintenance.

Cooney said he was comfortable with $500,000 for this year and $250,000 per year in following years.

Conklin supported $350,000 for 2017, reverting to $250,000 for following years.

Nielson said she wanted to see the long-term OS and Recreation Department maintenance plans.

Cook said that the NJDEP cleanup of Bonnieview property represents a large chunk of OS funds use for this year, which he supported since the property had been purchased using OS funds. TAPinto Montville asked Township Administrator Victor Canning about the cleanup, who said the township must clean a 200 square foot by 2 foot deep land area on an OS property to remove debris located there, which will cost $307,000.

Sandham said he is turning the list back to Canning with the understanding that the maximum amount the committee seems to be willing to spend is $350,000 to $400,000, and to return with a revised list of what can be done in 2017 and 2018.

Canning said there are approximately $147,000 from other Recreation trust funds to cover the $115,000 cost of lighting Masar Park and the $15,000 for lighting the basketball courts at the Community Park. This would reduce the proposed $640,000 OS spending. The Bonnieview cleanup is not reflected in this figure.

During public portion, former committee member Scott Gallopo asked the committee to compare the reduction of debt in the general capital budget to the reduction of debt in the OS budget. He worried that by not using existing OS funds for maintenance projects but instead bonding in the general capital budget might increase debt on the general capital side of the budget.

Museum to Gain Curator

Deputy Mayor Frank Cooney made a motion to appropriate up to $25,000 to inventory the items at the Montville Township Museum.

“We did approve $20,000 last year,” Cooney said. “We couldn’t get anywhere because of problems we were having with the historical society, but I think it’s time. We have to take some action. There are a lot of residents in this town who want to see this facility reopen. Visitors came during the holidays, thought it would be open and it hasn’t been open in several years. I really think that we should make this a priority.”

Cooney said he wanted to have the items inventoried, possibly hiring a curator, and have the items put on display, and set aside in a safe and secure manner what will not be used or displayed, so that the museum can be opened for the 150th anniversary celebration on April 11.

Committee Member Richard Conklin seconded with the stipulation that the curator work with the best of his or her ability with the historical society. Sandham pointed out that a similar motion passed last year with a $20,000 set-aside. Sandham said he had gotten complaints that the museum had not been open late in December during the holidays. Cooney asked for the project to be added to administration’s project status report which is contained in the committee’s meeting agenda. The motion passed unanimously.

During public portion, Gallopo asked the committee if the ownership question of the items in the museum had been resolved.

Sandham said, “We’ve decided to go forward and do what we can. If we don’t, it’s just going to be a quagmire for awhile. We’re going to get an outside curator who can handle the stuff appropriately and open the museum with the items on display. If there’s a question about who owns it, we’ll settle it later. At least we’ll get some progress.”

Cook said he wanted to get the museum put together so the historical society can do what they do best, which is tours.

Eagle Project Proposed

Tenth grade Boy Scout Michael Manetta presented his Eagle Scout project proposal to the committee. Manetta proposed to build a pergola at the dog park, similar to what his older brother built at Masar Park for his Eagle project. A pergola is a wooden gazebo-like structure, with seating. The structure would be approximately 10 x 10 square with a pitched roof, and would cost approximately $1,225 to build, which the Dog Park Committee would use their budget to fund, Manetta said. Township Administrator Victor Canning said the Dept. of Public Works and the Engineering Department would be involved in the project. The committee unanimously approved the project.

Security Upgrades

The township will be utilizing both OS funds to install security systems in the township if an ordinance introduced at the meeting passes at the Feb. 14 meeting.

The township committee allotted $50,000 in OS funds last year for security cameras and other improvements to several township OS properties. The funds were not spent, so an ordinance was introduced to utilize that amount plus an extra $50,000 to install the cameras. The committee hopes to install cameras at the Community Park and the Dog Park (a $21,000 security system).

Separately, the township will be utilizing funds from the capital budget to install cameras at the municipal building, the public safety building, and possibly the museum.