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It's all about the green

Andy Ouriel • Nov 19, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Sandusky officials might strip funding from the city’s greenhouse to offset their red-ink budget.

Budget projections show almost a $1 million deficit in the $16 million everyday operating budget, funding operations such as fire, police and greenhouse services.

To maintain current operations, city officials must find $1 million elsewhere before approving the budget in March.

It’s unlikely they’ll raise taxes anytime soon, so officials need to make cuts.

Among the areas on the chopping block: horticulture services, which includes greenhouse operations, a popular feature with residents and tourists.

Goodbye greenhouse?

Almost every day inside the Sandusky Greenhouse, workers and volunteers tediously cultivate and care for plants — vibrant annuals, perennials, tropicals and more — that are eventually planted in virtually every city park.

Since 1908 the city has operated a greenhouse to beautify area parks and properties.

But the tasks greenhouse workers and volunteers are responsible for have grown and evolved over the years.    

Some other jobs assigned to them include transforming Washington Park into a winter wonderland of sorts. Workers and volunteers decorate and illuminate this downtown Sandusky park to the satisfaction of every child who visits Santa at the Cookie House.

Additionally, workers maintain fountains at the Schade-Mylander Plaza and the Erie County Courthouse.

Some of these tasks — maybe all of them, in fact — might come to an end amid budget cuts.

During pre-election political debates centered on Sandusky’s looming budget crisis, commissioners-elect Dick Brady and Dennis Murray Jr. both alluded to slashing funding for horticulture services.

Horticulture services encompass greenhouse activities, along with mowing, groundskeeping, forestry and other related operations.

City officials have already reduced horticulture services funding in recent times, highlighted by the yearly budget shrinking from $854,000 in 2011 to $757,000 in 2013.

Less than a decade ago, the greenhouse employed six full-time workers. Now the number’s down to three.

“We’ve been cutting so much over the years,” greenhouse manager Tom Speir said. “I don’t know how much more can be cut and how much more we’ll be able to provide.”

Commissioners can expect some resistance if cuts are made.

Speir, along with several dedicated volunteers, would argue the following:

When commissioners faced a similar budget crunch in 2007, they considered closing the greenhouse, which was previously considered a money-guzzler because of its high utility costs.

City officials eventually captured a grant and other private funding, totaling about $500,000, aimed at saving the greenhouse by transforming it into Sandusky’s most energyefficient public building. The Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation, along with Kellogg Co., a national company producing cereal, provided the funding.

Since then, other upgrades have been made, including improved handicap access and the installation of solar panels.

The enhancements enticed volunteers to regularly contribute their time. Area foundations and residents also routinely donate money to sustain greenhouse services.

“People take pride in the city when there are nice surroundings around,” greenhouse volunteer Mary Huth said.

The greenhouse also doubles as an educational facility for students. Volunteers regularly provide tours and offer insight about why the greenhouse is essential.

Just recently, students from Sandusky, Perkins and Put-in-Bay toured the greenhouse.

“It’s important we beautify our parks and our downtown,” volunteer Nanette Guss said. “We can’t afford to lose this educational facility. Without the parks, we wouldn’t have the quality of life we have. Hopefully those parks spur more development and improve quality of life even more.”

At least one city commissioner supports greenhouse operations and wants to sustain services.

“The greenhouse is extremely important,” city commissioner Wes Poole said. “The services that they provide is important. They need to keep the parks and streets nice for the visitors, and the people who live here.”

Still, Poole has not said the greenhouse is immune from cuts.

“We are going to have to take a look at the numbers,” he said. “We can explore the idea (of cuts), and I’m willing to listen to that.”

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