From River Journal, Artificial Turf or Artificial Promise?

Call it coincidence; call it timing. Regardless, several articles in this issue deal with one of the two certainties in life — taxes. It is refreshing to learn about the progressive thinking initiated in the Village of Sleepy Hollow for consolidation of services between itself and Tarrytown.

In Irvington, a group of residents with finance and governance experience have volunteered their services to aid the Mayor and Board of Trustees in keeping Village taxes realistic.

With the call for greater fiscal accountability and the wise application of taxpayers’ money, one issue before voters in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow concerns the 3.66 million dollar proposition that will be attached to this year’s School Budget vote. The Board of Education is presenting a proposition for "Synthetic Turf Fields" for Sleepy Hollow and Washington Irving Schools. This proposition is over and above the projected 9.85% increase in the school budget for 2007/2008. State aid will offset a portion of the increase, however, Sleepy Hollow residents are expected to see a 7.4% increase in their school taxes while Tarrytowner’s will pay an additional 7.8%.

Only a couple years ago, a $72,000,000 referendum was approved by voters for the rebuilding and renovation of Sleepy Hollow High School and Washington Irving Intermediate School. After the referendum was passed the Board of Education was reported as stating that no new building or projects would take place until the General Motors "Lighthouse Landing" redevelopment began. That project is anticipated to contribute $1,500,000 annually to the school system. Somehow, someway, the School Board does not consider this additional 3.66 million dollar proposal as a new project. If approved, the "Artificial Turf" proposal has been calculated to add $900 (over the life of the bond) to everyone’s school tax bill.

Most residents may be unfamiliar with how this "Artificial Turf" proposal found its way onto the School Budget ballot. About one-year ago a group of parents approached and asked the School Board (which has jurisdiction over the playing fields) that if they (the parents) could raise the money for artificial turf fields through private means, to include contributions from willing parents, would the Board allow their installation? According to one individual who has been involved with this issue since its inception, the parents who approached the Board had an outside consultant work with them. When that same group reported back to the Board it was apparent that private funding would not work, and they made it known that they no longer wanted to pay for anything. At this juncture the School Board became involved and began conducting studies on field usage and conditions.

What became apparent was that the increased demand for playing fields was not only due to school athletics but from organizations such as AYSO, TNT baseball and WolfPack football. That demand had caused deterioration on certain playing fields. However, increased demand was only one part of the deterioration equation. The other part even more revealing and not addressed publicly is the grounds-keeping policies and lack of monies allocated for the conditioning of natural turf fields. In short, maintenance of existing fields is an issue that has lagged far behind the demand for their use. Noteworthy is the fact that there are many schools within Westchester County that have natural turf fields which receive required maintenance year after year and are in very good condition.

As a parent with one child in public school and another in private, both of whom play sports, I have been on every local field and a host of others throughout Westchester and the Buroughs of New York. Some have been marvelously maintained while others have been allowed to deteriorate into dust bowls. On Tuesday, May 15, voters will have to decide for themselves where the playing fields of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow rate as far as playability and priority. Gird up for the anticipated public relations blitz. For certain the games will begin.
Robert Bonvento, Publisher

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento