BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- Several residents came forward at Monday night's Borough Council meeting to request that the fees for using the turf field at the Polo Grounds off Seney Drive be reduced or eliminated.
During the open session, Mike Long, vice-president of the Somerset Hills Lacrosse Club and a board member of the Somerset Hills Mountaineers Football Club, asked the council to reconsider the field's user fees.
"The turf fees have become a flashpoint, a political football, and the youth sports that use the rectangular field have become part of that political football, unfortunately," Long told the council. Long asked why the turf facility has "been singled out for a user-fee approach?"
Bernardsville Mayor Mary Jane Canose explained the genesis of the fees.
"At that time, we felt like the fees could be set aside for turf replacement because we didn't have other sources (of revenue)," Canose said. "We now have (another) option with the Open Space amount."
Canose said, "We wanted to have funds we could set aside each year so in 15 or 20 years we could replace (the turf)."
According to Councilwoman Jena McCredie, $8,460 was raised by the turf fees in 2019.
One member of the borough's Recreation Committee urged that the borough "make it more affordable for youth football, Little League and lacrosse."
Another parent, who lives outside the borough but whose kids live in Bernardsville and who coaches youth football and lacrosse in town, said, "I hope you will reconsider the fees. The kids were asking, 'Why can't we play on those fields?' Because the fees are too high is an answer the kids can't understand."
Councilman Thomas O'Dea explained that staggering the amount of money collected over a long period of time rather than have residents be forced to make a balloon tax payment is behind the fee-based approach.
"There's an expense that we need to cover," O'Dea said, "either through tax revenue, or fees, or a portion of both. The concept is not to hit taxpayers 10 or 15 years down the road with a half-million-dollar bill. (We're trying to be) fiscally responsible so that taxpayers don't have a big-ticket item in the future."
O'Dea said that the $8,460 generated by the usage fees last year is well below the yearly amount that the borough would need to collect in order to pay for turf replacement between 10 and 20 years from now. He said the annual amount needed is in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.