WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

AGAWAM — A resolution to appropriate $420,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for Tuckahoe Turf Farm park amenities caused a rift among city councilors at their Dec. 18 meeting. In particular, Councilor George Bitzas criticized “luxury” expenses adding to the $6.2 million in taxpayer money and CPA money already spent on the park.

“Why do we have to spend all this money now, a year after we already approved the park and designs and everything?” he said.

Owned by the town since the 1990s, the 292-acre former farm in Feeding Hills is being renovated into a passive recreation park with hiking trails as well as facilities for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. The project includes state-mandated repairs to Nine Lot Dam, which impounds a pond on the property.

The ordinance appropriates funding for park amenities like benches, bike racks and educational signs. Bitzas opposed a $160,000 appropriation for a viewing platform, which he described as a tower residents could climb. Councilor Cecilia Calabrese later described it as less of a tower and more of a platform that overlooks the pond.

Bitzas said councilors should be concerned for taxpayers’ money, especially as the town pursues a costly high school project and new police station. CPA funds come from state grants and a 1% surcharge on Agawam property taxes. He also opposed $95,000 for a shade structure, but was willing to compromise on it. He said the money should be saved for future projects.

Bitzas proposed an amendment to eliminate $160,000 from the total appropriation, making it $260,000. Not every councilor agreed. Councilor Gerald Smith said that the spending will not increase anyone’s taxes, as the money already exists in the CPA fund. Councilor Dino Mercadante was concerned that taxpayer money will have to be spent on maintenance, through the Department of Public Works.

“We have to run a little lean and mean here in order to put that high school in place,” he said.

Councilor Robert Rossi said that maintenance won’t cost much money and the benefits for communities outweigh any maintenance problems later.

In what she called an “out-of-character” move for her, Calabrese said she’d vote against the amendment. She said the items proposed were reasonable and will make the park beautiful. She believes if there’s a cheaper way to install them, it will be done.

“Feeding Hills is long overdue for having something like this in our neighborhood,” she said.

Councilor Rosemary Sandlin supported the amendment, saying there are other ways the town could spend this money, like handicapped accessibility around the pond. Councilor Anthony Russo said he agreed, citing his own father’s experiences with disability.

Councilor Thomas Hendrickson said he was baffled by the idea of spending $6.2 million on the park and then cutting corners at the last minute. He said the town should be helping the park reach its full potential.

Councilors approved Bitzas’ amendment in a 7-4 vote. Calabrese, Hendrickson, Rossi and Smith voted “no.” The main motion, now amended to appropriate $260,000 only, was approved unanimously.

The council also voted unanimously to approve $247,175 in CPA funds for improvements at Borgatti Field. The improvements include two additional pickleball courts, a pavilion, and a handicap-accessible pathway between the pavilion and the courts. The council had no discussion about the ordinance.

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