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Bath parks levy renewal on May ballot

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

BATH — Bath Township voters are being asked to consider renewing the community’s parks levy, which is on the May 6 Primary Election ballot.

The levy, Issue No. 15, which costs property owners about $23 for each $100,000 of property valuation, collects about $370,000 a year, according to Township Administrator Vito Sinopoli. The current levy expires at the end of this year, so collection of the renewal, a five-year levy, will begin in 2015.

The funds go toward operations and maintenance of the township’s four park properties — which means it covers the costs of salaries for park staff, equipment to maintain areas and gasoline to power the department’s tools and vehicles.

Bath’s four parks are Bath Baseball Park, 4600 Everett Road; Bath Community Activity Center, 1615 N. Cleveland-Massillon Road; Bath Hill Park, 763 N. Revere Road; and Bath Nature Preserve, 4160 Ira Road. Township officials said they estimate that 100,000 people visited parks in Bath last year.

According to Sinopoli, township officials decided to seek a renewal of the 0.75-mill levy rather than a replacement because of a change in state policy regarding new and replacement levies.

Sinopoli said the Ohio Legislature, in adopting its budget bill in 2013, made a change that means the state’s prior subsidy to homeowners of 12.5 percent of property taxes was eliminated for certain changes to levies. Under the new legislative process, levies which are replaced or new lose the 12.5 percent rollback subsidy. 

“As such, taxpayers will shoulder the burden of additional taxes previously reimbursed by the state,” Sinopoli said.

By keeping the levy as a renewal, the change will not affect the levy, he added.

Sinopoli said the most significant and evolving park in the township is the Bath Nature Preserve. The 440-acre parcel purchased in 1996 as part of the former Firestone Estate has seen “tremendous growth,” he said.

“The purchase of the Nature Preserve served as the impetus for creation of the township’s Comprehensive Long Term Land Use Plan and the Nature Preserve Master Plan,” Sinopoli said. “Grant funding has subsidized many capital improvements in the Nature Preserve over the years, and the Township Parks Department is entrusted with its daily operation and maintenance.”

In addition to the levy and grant funding, the parks are funded through donations and money earned through leases. In 2002, The University of Akron (UA) entered into an agreement with Bath Township to lease 55 acres of wetland-sensitive areas for preservation and restoration. An additional 41 acres of the Bath Nature Preserve are leased to UA for research.

Base payment on the lease is adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, Sinopoli said, and the current revenue from the lease is around $26,000 per year.  

Sinopoli said township officials are happy that a private developer approached the township last year with a mitigation proposal to restore 11.65 acres in the Bath Nature Preserve. The area, known as the Tamarack Bog, will be the location of a wetland restoration project funded entirely through private resources.

“The developer will invest $292,000 to construct a boardwalk through the Tamarack Bog area and restore hydrology to the wetland,” Sinopoli said. “The University of Akron Biology Department will monitor the site for a period of 10 years and work closely with the Ohio EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the wetland is a success.”

In previous levy attempts, voters have supported the township’s parks levy. In 2009, 77 percent of Bath voters were in favor of the renewal.

“Our parks are truly an asset to the community, a defining part of the community, and it’s clear our residents feel they are very important,” Sinopoli said. “They know and understand that the success of our parks translates to the success of the community.”

Residents should expect to see a campaign underway to promote the levy, headed up by local resident Dave Carlos.

Should voters not support the levy at this time, Sinopoli said the township would move to put the issue on the November General Election ballot.

The Parks Department is currently headed up by Alan Garner, who is serving as interim parks director after the previous director, Mike Rorar, left to take a job elsewhere. Sinopoli said the township is currently in the second round of interviews to find a permanent director.

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