Social and Political Commentary

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Do the golfers at Mount Hood need to establish a 'Tea Party?'

... no one represents them in the discussions of the Mayor's proposed $5.5 million upgrades to the city's athletic fields but they will pay all the bills.

by Joe Sullivan


Waiting to tee off at the first.

The Melrose weeklies and local blogs carried stories last month about Mayor Rob Dolan’s  plan to build two new athletic fields at Pine Banks which would be shared with Malden and some extensive renovations to the baseball and football fields at Melrose High School.

To implement this ambitious plan the City will request Special Legislation from the State Legislature so that money can be taken from the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund to pay for these projects. The Enterprise Fund governs the financial operation of the Mount Hood Golf Course.  

The golf course has been designated as the sole source of the revenue which will finance the $5.5 million bond required to pay for the athletic fields and renovations.

Right now the Enterprise Fund limits the use of money produced by the golf course to expenditures at Mount Hood. Money produced at Mount Hood must be spent at Mount Hood, it cannot be used to pay for other projects throughout the City. The sought for Special Legislation will discontinue this limitation and make Mount Hood money available for other City sports oriented projects.

Although bond payments don’t start until 2016 the renovations of the High School fields are expected to start in June 2011 and be completed in 2012.

Special Legislation goes far beyond athletic fields and renovation complex

Up to now passage of the Special Legislation is being touted as the way the City, using the freed-up Mount Hood money, will be able to pay for the new athletic fields and renovation plans.

What should be noticed is that the Special Legislation for which the city is petitioning is not for the athletic field and the field renovations. It's for a much more general set of projects like acquiring interests in land for open space and recreational purposes and for constructing, reconstructing and equipping outdoor recreational facilities in the City of Melrose.

It would be easy to fit the athletic field and renovation plan into these very general requirements. At the same time it should also be understood that the requirements go far beyond the athletic fields and renovation plans. This leaves the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund open to finance any other plan that will fit into the very generous general requirements provided by the Special Legislation.

This is a critical point because what happens first is approval of the Special Legislation enabling access to Mount Hood's money. The Special Legislation doesn’t limit Mount Hood money to the athletic field and renovation plan. Once the Special Legislation is passed it doesn’t make any difference whether the athletic fields and renovation plans are ever initiated. What the Legislation does is make Mount Hood money available, not guarantee the building of the new ball parks.

Something that’s yet to be explored is the estimated costs of the High School field renovations and new construction. The current estimates for the High School are expected to require $3.5 million from the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund. (Another $1.5 million of the $5.5 million total will come from the Pine Banks portion of the plan.)

How reliable are the cost estimates?

Critical to the plan which takes all its money from Mount Hood is the reliability of the cost estimates for the new ball field projects. Nobody knows yet what happens if a final estimate of the projects come in at a total that the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund will not be large enough to finance.

This is not an idle fear given the experience of an earlier proposal to build an athletic field at Mount Hood. Three alternatives for an athletic field at Mount Hood had been developed by Beals and Thomas consultants. At the Park Commission meeting of July 20,2009 the Commission members were to select one of them to be more fully developed by Beals and Thomas consultants. The alternative that the members selected had a preliminary cost of about $1.5 million. When the consultant, Beals and Thomas, returned for the Commission’s November 2009 meeting the estimate had increased to $4.2 million. Beals and Thomas is a top-notch consulting company with Brooksby Village among its many accomplishments.

As an argument for building the new fields the comparison has been made a number of times that five fields can be built for $5.5 million while it would cost $4.2 million to build one athletic field at Mount Hood.  

For some people this is not a claim but a question, namely how can you build and renovate five fields for $5.5 million if you already know that it cost $4.2 to build only one field at Mount Hood?

Special Legislation will be in effect even if no athletic fields are built.

If a firmed-up estimate for the fields and renovations comes in at a number so high that the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund can't pay for it the fields and renovation program may have to be abandoned. This won't affect the approved Special Legislation,  it will still provide access to the money in Mount Hood’s Enterprise Fund...and for who knows what?

Observations like these could be considered cynical, but not if you were a golfer who is a paying customer at Mount Hood. They recall Mayor Patrick Guerreo’s grand plan for a soccer field to be built at Mount Hood at no cost to the taxpayers. It would be paid for by revenues the city would receive from dumping Big Dig landfill on Mount Hood Public Park on which the field would be built.

The project went into complete collapse and resulted in the city borrowing $1.7 million to repair the dumping area and the extensive damage to the golf course.

Golfers pay for Big Dig damage to Mount Hood Park until 2016. Taxpayers pay nothing.

Melrose taxpayers had no need for concern, the Board of Aldermen voted to place the entire cost of a $1.7 bond on golf course revenues. Mayor Dolan said in his press Conference on October 4 that “Now it’s time for the citizens of Melrose to receive a return on their investment.” It’s not clear what “investment “ the Mayor is referring to.

Citizens are unaffected by the calamity at Mount Hood, instead they are the beneficiaries of the golfers-pay-all plan currently being used  to repair the damage to their Mount Hood Public Park.

It would be hard to beat an investment where you get the benefits but someone else pays for the cost of them. That’s what’s happening right now. The bond cost was reduced recently when the Mayor applied a $500,000 grant from the state to reduce the bond amount. But the Golfers, to this day, are paying for the remainder of this bond obligation and will continue to pay until this bond is retired in 2016.

No public meetings to allow discussion of Mayor's plan.,

Golfers have reason to be wary and suspicious of  plan which finds its way so quickly through our city government. A plan announced by the Mayor in his press conference on October 4 and the Board of Aldermen met in a special session on October 14 to approve the request for Special Legislation from the State Legislature.

There were no public meetings where the people who would be affected by this legislation would have the opportunity to ask questions. It’s similar to the no-questions process which was used to implement the disastrous dumping program at Mount Hood.

Before the Big Dig dumping fiasco no one had the opportunity to ask what “glacial till” was. It turned out to be ground-up stone. We didn't know that until after tons of it had been dumped on our public park. No one had the opportunity to ask whether or not the area provided for the land fill would be able to hold the amount of fill for which the city had signed a contract to accept.  And, if  the assigned dumping area wasn’t big enough, would the golf course be the only place left to accept the amount of fill necessary to satisfy the contract terms?

Some very big things can be missed when nobody gets to ask the questions.

Right after the Mayor’s press conference Michael Interbartolo wrote a letter to the Mayor which was published in the Melrose Free Press. Mr. Interbartolo said that the he believed the new ball field and renovations would jeopardize Mount Hood’s financial stability.

Park Committee Chairman Interbartolo cites City Charter limitations in open letter to Mayor.

He further cited the 1936 State Legislation that was used to establish the golf course and park. He cited the restriction it contained to limit money generated at Mount Hood stay at Mount Hood. Mr. Bill Gardiner also published a comment which disagreed with the chairman’s claim that the projects would jeopardize the Hood and that safeguards were in place to keep that from happening.

So far nobody has disagreed that the 1936 restrictions limit revenues to stay at Mount Hood. This limitation, furthermore is in the City Charter. The question arises why would the City Fathers established such a limitation?

No one represents the people who provide all the revenue at Mount Hood.

What’s going on now show the circumstances which those limitations foresaw; it’s that the people who provide all the revenue at Mount Hood have no one who represents them and, without protection, that money will be the target of the city itself.

In the past Mount Hood golfers don’t respond to situations like paying for the ball fields unless it does something that interrupts their playing golf. Up to now politicians have had little to fear from unhappy golfers. Think of the repairs for the Big Dig damage that they are being forced to pay for until 2016. The record is they will tolerate some terrible injustices and not respond.

We live in an unusual political climate now. The Tea Party is an example of a group that is a minority but brings a strong political impact on elective offices. There are arguments as to what they really want. What is clear is that its members are unhappy with the status quo. There is an intense frustration that is looking to express itself.

Someday we’ll see a politician who will take advantage of Mount Hood. He or she will present himself or herself as someone who will stop “what’s going on with Mount Hood”. This person will show the golfers that reasonable arguments on their behalf get them ignored. The politician will not be targeting a specific issue but will be playing to the frustration of people who feel they are part of a system which ignores them.  

Maybe it will take some time for this to happen at Mount Hood. But ignoring the victims is a good way to get it started.  

    
November 5, 2010
   

   

  




  



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