UPDATE: Since posting on this subject, I contacted Tony Lupino, Council Member at-large, to ask about his position on the astroturf proposal. His response was as follows:
The Council is waiting on a detailed document to understand if the initial expense of $750,000. will be offset by savings in maintenance, upkeep and personnel costs. The $750K might be offset by private donations and sponsorship. Besides, with an artificial surface we may be able to open the Stadium up to more “for profit” events, thus generating more revenues for the City. Keep in mind, the high school sports teams are not the majority users of the field. Many youth groups (not tied to the public schools) are the biggest users. The Stadium may be able to “pay for itself” with an artificial surface.
I know I’m in the minority on this issue, but I believe it has merit. I’m awaiting the final numbers.
You say the schools are not getting an increase. I say let’s see what the Council can come up with.
He then passed my email on to Paula McFarland, Vice Chair of the City Council, who provided this response:
We are awaiting the additional information that was presented at the planning commission meeting. I agree with Tony that the project may have merit to create additional revenues within the City. Let’s see?
Regarding the Astroturf within the capital budget and your question: Do you think this is the best use of education funds, considering that schools are not receiving any increase? However, we cannot use capital funds for education as most items are for long-term cost. The Astroturf is located in the Parks & Recreation Area of the Capital Budget and not with the School Department Projects. For Parks and Recreation is this just one project which totals $1.5 million potential in spending for the coming year on capital issues facing the City’s recreation.
The School Dept’s Capital Projects, which are not paid for within the Schoolâ€™s Operating Budget, but paid by the Cityâ€™s Operating Budget, is $5.6 million. A much large portion of funding is being made for Capital improvements to the Schools then for Parks and Recreation needs within the City. The list for next year are as followings: East/Briggs â€“ Asbestos Removal, West â€“ Roof, sprinklers, asbestos removal, West Hills â€“ Lockers, sprinklers, Misc. Construction, Gladstone â€“ Sprinklers, replacement of windows, Norwood â€“ replace roof & Waterman â€“ sprinklers, replacement windows for a total of $5.6 million.
I wish we could fund the entire School Dept.â€™s Operating and Capital Project Budgets with bond money. Then taxpayers could put off paying for education of our children for 10, 20 or 30 years, but is that the way we should starting paying to educate our future — leaving them to paid the tab in the future? I know we donâ€™t want that!
I hope this will clear up any discussions regarding one potential project that may or may not be done within the coming year, which is a Capital Improvement, and the total Capital Projects Bond Funds is $16.3 million. Additionally, the rating agency for borrowing on Capital spending raised the Cityâ€™s bond rate from BBB- to A- with a positive outlook for the future and did say that our debt to market value is low at 1% and $1,049 per capita. That is extremely low for borrowing for Capital expenditures for an given community in the State of Rhode Island.
My response to Paula McFarland is as follows:
Thanks for your detailed response. I wonder who created the project numbers for the planning commission on the astroturf. I think it would be important to know this to clarify any conflicts of interest. For example, if the projections were created by a potential contractor for installation or the manufacturer of the product, there is obviously an incentive for them to make projections that would be attractive to the city council. In my own head, I can’t see how it will make money. If the cost of the project is about $150,000 a year (when averaged out over the life of the project), do you really think that can be earned in rentals? My guess is that there will be about 25 days available for rental after our schools use the stadium for their own games/needs. What can you charge for this service, $1000, maybe $2000? That means potential earnings of 25,000 to 50,000, not exactly “paying for itself.”
Other questions: Who are these non-school youth groups who have this kind of money and want to use astroturf? Do we have a list of potential customers? How will the city pay for the person who manages the rentals, coordinates the dates for use of the stadium, deals with complaints, problems, etc? What will be done in the event of rain or other inclement weather? Will customers be allowed to reschedule? Will there be increased insurance costs for this field, given that it will get much heavier use?
But as I said, I think it is important to identify the source of this idea, and the source of any projected financial data. Having observed the way government does things, it seems clarifying this question is the first order of business.
And as you know, I am not experienced with this — it’s just my financial gut feeling, which I fully acknowledge could be wrong.
ORIGINAL POST: From School Committee Member Steve Stycos:
MAYOR’S BUDGET MOVES FORWARD
The City Council will vote Monday April 30 on Mayor Napolitano’s budget. The budget’s highlights include borrowing $750,000 to install artificial turf at the Cranston Stadium while providing no new funds for the Cranston schools. Tuesday night only one councilman, Republican Jeffrey Barone, challenged the artificial turf, calling it “ridiculous,” when coupled with level funding for the schools. Napolitano’s parks and recreation director defended the plan at the council budget hearing.
In addition, Council President Aram Garabedian challenged the mayor’s plan to spend $750,000 to expand the Arlington fire house to accommodate a larger fire engine. During the public comment period, I raised several possible ways to free up money to fund the schools. First, I suggested repealing property tax breaks for banks and real estate companies. (The economic development director was not able to detail the costs of the tax breaks).
I also suggested boosting residential recycling by initiating a “pay as you throw” system that charges people who use more than one large bag of trash a week. A pay as you throw system in North Kingstown has produced the state’s highest recycling rates. All savings, I proposed, could fund education. At a minimum a recycling education flyer should be enclosed with the annual tax bill.
I also suggested instituting an energy efficiency program for city buildings similar to the one launched last fall by the school committee. And I urged the council to investigate reducing street lighting which currently costs the city $1.2 million a year.
In addition, I proposed that the city pay the school department’s $117,000 a year sewer bill in exchange for school department custodians picking up trash at city run playgrounds next to schools. Currently two parks department employees drive to Rhodes or Waterman playground, for example, to empty the trash barrels. My proposal, which was endorsed by the school committee, would have school custodians pick up the trash, creating time for the parks employees to do other necessary work. In return, the city would pay the school’s sewer bills.
Finally, I opposed the Astroturf plan as an embarrassment in a year when Napolitano proposes to provide no new money for the schools. The only other citizen to speak was former parks director Bob Clarkin who also opposed the proposal. Clarkin also questioned the size of the capital budget which is about 50 percent more than last year’s budget. With the exception of Barone, council members had no comment on the Astroturf plan.
The plasticized turf would only last ten to twelve years, according to the manufacturer, and interest costs would bring its cost to about $1.5 million, or about $150,000 for the life of the project. That’s the cost of two full-time teachers. While the turf might make the stadium more attractive for rental, there is no way rentals would pay a major portion of construction costs. The proposal indicates that the mayor is more concerned with the condition of sports fields than public school class size.
Citizens who have comments on the budget should contact their council members before Monday night. Phone numbers and email addresses are available on the city’s web site.
And, for those who missed Earth Day, today is another good day to celebrate:
EARTH DAY EVENT
Thursday April 26, Jeff St Germain of Little Falls Bakery and CafÃ© will run a public information meeting at William Hall Library on Broad Street in Cranston on safe biodegradable cleaning products sold by the Shaklee Company. Jeff, who is a strong supporter of the farmers market, welcomes everyone to discuss safer ways to clean and other environmental issues. The meeting will run from 7 to 9 PM downstairs at the William Hall Library and everyone is welcome.