Last April, voters at Annual Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported an effort to save the only Town-owned turf field. This month, Town officials learned that before the effort can move forward, it may have to go back.
This week, selectmen were asked to support a new 911 article for Town Meeting. Voters would be asked to support a petition requesting a 15 year lease for the field.
The approved 2014 article to refinance the field was initiated by citizen’s petition. The field is deteriorating and was written off by the Town as too expensive to maintain.
Resident Jim Hegarty had a plan to change that. At the time, he explained to voters that the article was just one component of the plan. The vote granted selectmen the authority to obtain a long-term bond to refinance the field. That was contingent on a long-term lease for the field. To get that, he would seek help from the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation.
That’s where he hit a roadblock.
DCR owns the field and only leases it to Southborough in five year terms. For re-turfing the field to payoff, the Town needs a 15 year term financing. But bonds can’t extend longer than the lease.
Last April, Hegarty explained that DCR made two recent exceptions for long term leases elsewhere. With support from Representative Carolyn Dykema, he planned to lobby for a long term lease.
Recently, DCR rejected the request. The Town also learned there may be resistance from the Mass Water Reservation Authority which owns property near the field.
But Hegarty and Dykema haven’t given up. They are looking for Town Meeting voters to approve a “Home Rule petition”. It would ask state legislators to force DCR’s hand.
Apparently, without that vote, Dykema would not be able to bring the bill forward.
Selectmen were confused by Dykema’s request as presented by Town Administrator Mark Purple. They questioned the need for a new article. They wondered why the previous vote and support from selectmen wouldn’t be enough. And if it didn’t suffice, would a new Town vote make any difference to DCR?
Resident Desire Aselbekian told the board that she had knowledge from past work at the State House. According to Aselbekian, the Home Rule petition is necessary to get the bill through committee.
If Dykema introduces the bill on her own, it gets sent to a standing committee for review. Because of opposition from state agencies, Aselbekian said it would get stuck there.
But Aselbekian stated that all Home Rule petitions have to be reviewed and considered by legislators. She furthered that if it becomes part of the legislature acts, it would force DCR to extend the lease.
Selectmen asked Purple to provide more information and guidance at their next meeting.
Not sure what the field fuss is about? Here’s some more background.
In fall 2013, Southborough Recreation Commission announced plans to close 9-11 field. According to their statement, the field was in need of returfing. The expense was deemed too great compared to user fees and assessed need. (You can read more on that here.)
It turns out that closing would be a big loss to Northborough Southborough Youth Lacrosse, which uses it as a home field. (You can read more about that here.)
If Hegarty’s plan is successful, he promised that financing the re-turfing would be fully covered by user fees.