West New York’s Board of Commissioners recently cast their vote on a $3,950,000 bond issue. Roughly $1.7 million of it would have gone toward renovating Miller Stadium. The rest would have gone toward renovations on McEldowney Field and Centennial Field, as well as improvements to the roof of the DPW building.
According to Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, West New York secured $1.5 million in grant funding from county and state departments to offset costs of renovating the park.
Cirillo said the field was in need of repair; he was one of many residents who considered it unsafe to play or practice on the field in its current condition, noting that the town’s high school athletics programs have moved their activities away from the field.
Dozens of residents attended a recent board meeting; every resident who addressed the board during the hearing on the bond issue favored its passing.
“I don’t understand why this is having trouble passing,” high school football coach Stefano Calderara told the board, “I urge you tonight to vote not with a political agenda in mind, but with the best interests of the kids of the town of West New York.”
Commissioners Gabriel Rodriguez, Cosmo Cirillo, and Margarita Guzman voted in favor of the resolution, each citing that it took more than a year to secure the $1.5 million in state and county grants for the improvements.
Commissioner Susan Colacurcio abstained from the vote, noting that voting in favor of the bond issue would have been a conflict of interest. Colacurcio is a board of education member; there was a shared services agreement for the project involving the board of education.
The deciding vote was left to Mayor Felix Roque, who also abstained. With four votes needed, this prevented the bond issue from passing.
“Coach Bear [High School Football Coach Stefano Calderara] says ‘vote responsible,'” Roque said. “That includes the elderly and those paying taxes. I have to make a decision that is not political, I’ll abstain. I’ll tell you why, I’ll leave the next administration, come May or June, let them make the decision. I’ll be OK with that.”
‘Kicking the can down the road’
Rodriguez said that the postponing of the vote could put the county and state grant funds toward the project in jeopardy. Cirillo said the field’s repair is an inevitable need, and that Roque’s abstaining from the vote, and pushing the project back a few years could add millions to the cost of repair.
“You want to talk fiscal responsibility?” Cirillo asked Roque. “All you’re doing is kicking the can down the road, and making it more expensive. You’re jeopardizing all the grant funding. They wanted us to vote on this last month, we’re on a time table.”
“We’re running the risk even more of losing this grant funding provided by the state,” Rodriguez added. “They gave us a courtesy and extended it to this month, now we don’t know if we’ll have this funding afforded to us.”
“You said it wasn’t political, but you pushed the can forward to whoever’s going to be the next mayor.” — Ricky Solaris
Throughout the open public comments portion of the meeting, residents unilaterally voiced disappointment with Roque’s decision to abstain from the vote.
Ricky Solaris, a West New York resident, said, “It’s very important that we do something about these fields. We have an excess of water. Unless you do something about it, someone’s going to get hurt. You said it wasn’t political, but you pushed the can forward to whoever’s going to be the next mayor. We elected you to this board to represent us and make decisions.”
Resident John Smith said, “Some of these kids are getting hurt on Miller Field, they’re getting sprained ankles. The field is atrocious, and this is a bad choice you’re making.”
Several residents compared Miller Stadium to other township fields in Hudson County, and said West New York was the only Hudson County municipality that didn’t have a public field with artificial turf.
Commissioner Guzman, who was involved in drafting the plan, said, “I’m so disappointed with Mayor Roque’s vote and his refusal to do the right thing for our children.” She attributed a “political grudge” to the mayor’s refusal to sign off on the bond issue.
Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org