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Metro Parks levy on November ballot

9/5/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

SUMMIT COUNTY — Akron area residents have supported the area’s park district with a property tax since 1928. Now Metro Parks, Serving Summit County officials hope voters will come through once again and approve the district’s levy in the Nov. 5 General Election.

The levy (which had not been assigned an issue number by presstime) is a renewal of the 1.46-mill levy passed by voters in 2006. It is estimated to collect $15.8 million annually and would cost property owners about $45 per $100,000 of valuation.

“It’s not a new tax and it’s not an increase,” district spokesman Nate Eppink said.

The levy period is for seven years, Eppink said. Park district commissioners opted to go on the ballot a year early, so if the levy is approved it will replace the last year of the previous levy, which was approved for an eight-year period.

The money raised through the levy provides the Metro Parks with funding to operate and maintain its 14 park sites and 125 miles of trails, Eppink said. In 2012, the district reported it had expenditures totaling $16.5 million.

The park district does get some additional funding in the form of grants and donations, but Eppink called those “incidentals.”

“We have been very successful, particularly in the last few years, in getting additional monies from foundations and other government funds and even had some property donated to us as well, but those are never things you can count on,” Eppink said. “This levy funds the day-to-day maintenance of the Metro Parks. It funds everything we do and everything we offer.”

The district has 131 permanent employees, both full and part time. There are also seasonal employees in the summer and fall. Eppink added there are more than 500 active volunteers who assist in various ways.

Eppink said the district is in good financial shape, especially after some self-imposed belt tightening in 2012.

“Across the board … we cut each department’s budget by 8 percent,” he said. “It was not mandated by anything other than wanting to take a look at expenses. For this year, many departments have held to that level, so we have been able to be even better stewards of the funds entrusted to us.”

No employees lost their jobs, but when a vacancy did occur, park district officials took a look at the position when deciding whether or not to fill it, Eppink said.

The district has tried to up its efficiency by using existing park maintenance crews and equipment to take on some of its newer park sites. For example, Eppink said the crew from Goodyear Heights Metro Park oversees Springfield Bog Metro Park. When the new Wood Hollow Metro Park opens in Hudson in 2014, workers from Liberty Park in Twinsburg will take on its maintenance.

Since the levy was last renewed, Eppink said the Metro Parks have been busy and fulfilled its campaign promises from the last election. Chief among those was working with partners to complete the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and the renovation of the Visitors Center at the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm in West Akron. Also completed was an extension of the jogging trail in Sand Run Metro Park in West Akron and restoration of the Civil War-era Harter Barn at Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton.

Projects in the future for the district include the building of a visitors center at Liberty Park, for which Eppink said ground could be broken this year. The district also is about to undertake a project to address 4 miles of the Towpath Trail with a new application of crushed limestone.

He added that most Metro Parks activities are free of charge, and there are more than 40 events taking place in a given month.

Political action committee Citizens for Metro Parks is promoting the levy, using proceeds from the annual STOMP bike ride to fund the campaign, Eppink said.

Should voters reject the levy renewal, Eppink said the park district would return to the ballot, since it still has a year before the current levy expires.

For more information, go to www.vote4metroparks.com.

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