Council Alters Project Process After $478K Overrun On Town Turf Fields

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Liberty Field, one of Verona's two new municipal turf fields.
Liberty Field, one of Verona’s two new municipal turf fields.
The Verona Town Council approved a resolution on Tuesday night to signal that it will insist on greater oversight of municipal construction projects after it discovered that $477,794.36 in charge orders for the two turf fields on Verona’s Hilltop had not gone through proper review procedures.

In accordance with state law, Verona has had a policy requiring that change orders on any project be approved by the mayor and Council. But last October, Verona’s new township manager, Matt Cavallo, discovered that 34 change orders on the construction of Freedom and Liberty fields had not been submitted to the Council but had instead only gone through Verona’s former manager, Joe Martin, who resigned in July 2015. Cavallo asked Mayor Kevin Ryan how he wanted to handle the matter and they agreed that all of the field change orders had to be reviewed by the Council.

Cavallo subsequently discovered 53 change orders in all, which had all been paid without Council approval. (An additional $117,106.01 of work has not been paid and is in litigation.) Some were for unexpected excavation of the hilly location, while others were for items not included in the original project, such as additional fending and field lines. In addition to the first group of 34, there were 19 change orders that had only gone through Verona’s engineer, Jim Helb. Cavallo and Brian Aloia, the town attorney, decided that copies of all change orders had to be given to the Council and that a resolution was needed to ratify them.

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That resolution was presented at the February 6 Council meeting, and you can see hear the discussion surrounding it in the video below. The measure was not approved at that meeting because Council members Bob Manley and Jay Sniatkowski were absent. It was approved this past Tuesday in a 4-1 vote: Councilman Alex Roman voted against approval saying, “I would not have voted for all these changes had they been put in front of us.”

While the change orders pushed the cost of the turf fields from the $5.431 million prime contract awarded in 2014 to $5.989 million, there will not be any extra cost to Verona taxpayers because the Council had money remaining in the bonds approved for previous Hilltop projects. But with two multi-million-dollar municipal projects in the offing–a gut renovation of the Verona Public Library and the potential relocation of the Verona Fire Department’s Station 2–the new Council majority is determined to follow proper procedures.

Mayor Ryan noted at the February 8 meeting that, after becoming mayor he declined to have his signature captured electronically for digital document signing. “If my name is going to be on every check going out of here, I’m going to see where it is going,” he said. “I want to make sure that when things start,” he added later in the meeting, “we have the proper mechanisms in place to review them.” Councilman Roman suggested that the Council should investigate whether it was permissible to leave the previous bonds open, urging the Council to close the bonds when a project is completed. Cavallo said that many have been closed since he was hired.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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