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MetroParks seeks help from voters

Andy Ouriel • Mar 30, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Erie MetroParks officials are hardcore campaigning for issue No. 4 on May’s ballot. And they should — the future of Erie County’s leading park district relies upon this decision.

Registered voters residing in Erie County can vote as to whether or not they support increasing Erie MetroParks’ millage rate from 0.5 to 0.6 per year during the next decade. To better understand the issue, the Register sent a series of questions to Erie MetroParks officials.

Here are those inquiries and answers:

Q: How many years would the levy be for? If approved, what year will this new levy kick in?

A: It’s a 10-year levy that would begin in 2015.    

Q: If approved, what will the owner of a $100,000 home pay to Erie MetroParks each year?

A: This homeowner can expect to pay $36.31 per year, up from $21.34 paid annually today.

A different view: If approved, the owner of a $100,000 home will pay $14.97 more per year, or an additional $1.25 per month.

Q: If approved, how much money from this levy will be brought in each year on this portion of the levy?

A: About $712,000, equating to about a 33 percent increase to what’s being paid on this portion of the levy today.

Q: How much in total does Erie MetroParks operate on today?

A: Recent year-end figures show the district working with an annual budget hovering between $1.7 million to $2 million. If voters approve this levy issue, the district’s total operating budget could increase by $712,000 each year.

Q: Why is Erie MetroParks seeking to increase the millage on this levy?

A: Park officials contend the current levy is 30 years old, and they need to readjust rates to more accurately reflect modern property values and today’s economy.

Inflation and decreases in county-based property values have eaten away at the current millage. A quick equation shows the current 0.5 mills is more like.19 mills.

Furthermore, tax collections decrease as properly values plummet — and that’s without factoring in inflation.

A proposed levy increase should also offset an estimated $315,000 loss from state funding.

So the increase in millage is more to keep pace with factors outside the district’s control.

Q: What’s at stake if this levy is not approved?

A: If a majority of voters reject the levy in May, park officials wouldn’t take any drastic measures yet. They would likely place the same exact issue and language on November’s ballot.

If voters reject that proposed levy, by 2016, the district would lose almost one-third of its total income. If this happened, officials would surely gut the district, including closing parks, decreasing services and implementing layoffs impacting some of the roughly 20 full-time and seasonal employees.

Q: What specifically will this levy help fund?

A: Money generated through the levy would aim to enhance various park properties, including:

•East Sandusky Bay MetroPark: increase invasive species control efforts; add birdwatching observation decks; install child-friendly play equipment; remove dead ash trees; install better trail signs; install removable canoe launch; establish more programming for youth outdoor activities such as canoeing and kayaking, camping outings and more mini railroad operations.

•Osborn MetroPark: place new roof on Frost Center; resurface driveway and parking lots; refurbish shelter houses; upgrade Children’s Forest area; install doggy agility course and upgrade water fountains in Erie MetroBark Park; remove dead ash trees; establish more recreation programming; schedule additional sports tournaments.

•Hoffman Forest MetroPark: install new bridge along trail; update parking; install new trail signs.

•Castalia Quarry MetroPark: upgrade trail signage; sand and stain observation deck; make deck more birdwatching friendly,continue planting and evaluation of rare plants; increase invasive species control efforts; maintain wetland areas; remove dead ash trees.

•The Coupling MetroPark: place new roofs on depot and train cars; renovate depot to accommodate those with disabilities; refurbish outer train cars; rework train car interiors, increase invasive species control efforts; upgrade drive to enhance canoe and kayak access; install canoe and kayak launch area.

•James H. McBride Arboretum: continue caring for property.

•Joseph Steinen Wildlife Area and The Barnyard: refurbish barn area; maintain barn sidings; create more outdoor youth hunting and outdoor programming; increase invasive species control efforts; upgrade barn electric systems.

•Birmingham School MetroPark: remove existing basketball court and replace it; increase invasive species control efforts; upgrade parking lot; remove dead and fallen trees.

•Pelton Park: upgrade parking area; remove dead ash trees.

•Edison Woods MetroPark: continue Adventure Walkway to parking lot; add more trails; upgrade parking, trails and archery areas; rework parking lots; upgrade trail signage; maintain fire roads; fill in areas of demolition; make more parking; increase invasive species control efforts.

•Wakefield MetroPark: upgrade conservation area; clean the beach.

•Thomas Williams MetroPark: develop wildlife and land management plans.

•All properties: upgrade all information boards; further social media efforts; update comprehensive brochures and related websites; create an indoor archery area; establish a nature viewing area.

Q: Will any levy funds help acquire additional park property?

A: No they won’t. In 2010, park commissioners determined any and all levy funds would not be spent for obtaining additional land. Park officials said voters expressed dissenting views of their tax dollars going toward land acquisition. They prefer their money to be spent on conserving and promoting current properties.

Q: Why should people vote for this levy?

A: Erie MetroParks officials trumpeted the following facts as to why people should approve this upcoming levy:

•In 2013, the district contributed more than $3 million to Erie County through sporting events, such as soccer matches and a lacrosse tournament. The number is added up by people staying in area hotel rooms, shopping at local stores, eating at regional restaurants and visiting venues, including Cedar Point.

•The district enhances public health by providing places for people to hike, bike and play sports.

•The district offers more than 450 programs each year for virtually every demographic imaginable. About 90 percent of these programs are free to Erie County residents. It’s estimated more than 100,000 people visited, participated in programs or partnered with Erie MetroParks in 2013.

•Legal fees have significantly decreased in recent times. Taxpayer money going to lawyers has decreased from $265,000 spent in 2009 to $108,000 spent in 2013. Legal fees are expected to total $90,000 in 2014 and $100,000 in 2015. Park commissioners made a concentrated effort to avoid lawsuits and promote goodwill toward the community in hopes these costs go down.

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