MetroParks seeks help from voters

Parks system asking for support of issue No. 4 on May primary ballot
Andy Ouriel
Mar 30, 2014
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.

Comments

Babo

They should have NO legal fees as the County Prosecutor's Civil Division is by statute the Metro Parks legal counsel. Thus, the County prosecutor is duty bound to provide legal services at no charge to the Metro Parks Commissioners.

Also, has there been any consideration to filing an action to recover all the legal fees paid to prior counsel for misleading the prior Commission and continuing at enormous expense baseless and frivolous litigation since the Metro Parks never had title to the Greenway properties?

goldenbeargrad

Actually the County Prosecutor is prohibited from serving as legal counsel to the Metroparks. See Ohio Attorney General Opinion 94-035, dated June 2, 1994. In its conclusion it reads:

"It is, therefore, my opinion and you are hereby advised that:
1.A county prosecuting attorney, acting in an official capacity pursuant to R.C. 309.09, may not represent a county-wide park district established under R.C. 1545.01 or a joint ambulance district established under R.C. 505.71."

Babo

As noted in another post, the current version of RC 309.09 in subsection D does authorize the County Prosecutor to represent the Parks Board and this opinion cited is no longer relevant.

However, I was wrong to state Baxter has a statutory duty to represent the Parks District at no charge as he is not statutory counsel. Instead the Parks Board can enter into a contract with his office for legal representation instead of hiring outside counsel.

I question why the Board continues to hire outside counsel when the county prosecutor's office would undoubtedly have more experience in government entity representation and would be lower cost. Certainly the office cannot do a worse job than the private firms hired in the past.

Ralph J.

VOTE NO!

Factitious

Vote yes.
The complaints about MetroParks are not justified. But even if all those old bogus allegations were true, they are alleged to have happen long ago under different management. Erie MetroParks for some time now has had all new board members and management, and they continue to operate efficiently and at low cost, bringing excellent value to the people of Erie County.

Ralph J.

Those lawyers and Erie Metro Parks broke the law.THEFT AND FRAUD

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2913

(A) "Deception" means knowingly deceiving another or causing another to be deceived by any false or misleading representation, by withholding information, by preventing another from acquiring information, or by any other conduct, act, or omission that creates, confirms, or perpetuates a false impression in another, including a false impression as to law, value, state of mind, or other objective or subjective fact.

(B) "Defraud" means to knowingly obtain, by deception, some benefit for oneself or another, or to knowingly cause, by deception, some detriment to another.

(C) "Deprive" means to do any of the following:

(1) Withhold property of another permanently, or for a period that appropriates a substantial portion of its value or use, or with purpose to restore it only upon payment of a reward or other consideration;

A) No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:

(1) Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(2) Beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(3) By deception;

(4) By threat;

(5) By intimidation.

VOTE NO! Let Erie Metro Park sue the lawyers to get back taxpayer money.

http://www.eriecounty.oh.gov/dep...

Although the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offenses is viewed as the primary function of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, the office serves another important role through its civil division. The civil division provides legal advice and representation to its statutory clients. In other words, the Prosecuting Attorney is the lawyer for many of the other public offices and officials in Erie County. All told there are about 173 different clients to which the Prosecuting Attorney provides legal opinions or represents in legal proceedings. For example, the Prosecuting Attorney represents all the elected officials in Erie County such as the County Commissioners, the Sheriff, the Judges, and represents each of the nine townships located in Erie County just to name a few of its clients.

So why did the Erie Metro Parks hire private lawyers? Perkins township has a private lawyer as does the health department.

VOTE NO!

samiam

Voting NO. It's the only way we the taxpayer can hold them accountable. Too quick to gobble up land that they took out of the tax base. Now they're complaining they don't have the funds for upkeep.

Factitious

What they allegedly "gobbled up" was land the owners WANTED them to have, was donated or acquired at bargain prices, and the deal was facilitated by the Trust For Public Lands. It protects vistas of the water, habitat for Bald Eagles and other wildlife, and water quality in the East Sandusky Bay. It was a great deal for the people of Erie County.

Ralph J.

VOTE NO! VOTE NO TO SCHOOL LEVIES TOO! LOOK WHAT I FOUND.

http://www.eriecounty.oh.gov/dep...

The Prosecutor is the statutory representative for Erie County governmental entities, including all county agencies, county elected officials, library districts, State Fire Marshals and townships and school districts as required. A total of 173 public entities are represented by the three member Civil Division. In the most recent year, the Division issued over 200 written opinions, attended more than 25 administrative hearings and 90 general governmental meetings, and represented the interests of 14 statutory entities in 28 administrative and federal/state court proceedings. The Civil Division responsibilities require attendance at a variety of board meetings, often held in the evening. The Division aids in the collection of unpaid real estate taxes on behalf of Erie County Treasurer, and in advising the Erie County Auditor and Treasurer on the collection of personal property taxes.

VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO!

I hope all levies fail for hiring private lawyers for big bucks when free legal services were available from the prosecutors office. Get a clue people. Don't get me started on any stinking school levy!

VOTE NO! It's not for the parks or the little children. It's to create a fund for more private lawyers! VOTE NO!

Ralph J.

Look what I found. Another lawsuit and more private lawyers? VOTE NO!

http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

Darwin's choice

"Park commissioners made a concentrated effort to avoid lawsuits and promote goodwill toward the community in hopes these costs go down."

Let's ask the Steinen's about that quote....

SamAdams

Nope. Sorry! I would point out that those millions of dollars in needless legal expenses would come in pretty gosh darn handy right about now, wouldn't they? Here's a helpful tip I'll give Metroparks for FREE: Stop biting off more than you can chew, and don't break the law any more. You're welcome.

sugar

Just STOP. Another government entity overstepping it's boundaries and we the taxpayers have to pick it up. NO NO NO. No more money.

old dog

With all of the land grabing they do and can't afford to even maintain it, I will be voting NO. Especially with my property value being lowered along with everyone elses.

donutshopguy

Sorry, it's no for me too.

Whiskey Tango F...

Gonna say no for us! Open all of the land for use and I might change my mind. Too many land grabs with other people's money! Your tax base wouldn't suffer if you didn't take all the great property for yourself! What about the farm that they refuse to honor the agreements that the previous owners wanted in exchange for their land! NO NO NO and NO!

sosterling@city...

All of you need to attend a meeting and ask questions instead of assuming your facts are correct.

donutshopguy

sosterling ,

Got my facts from the SR. Are you saying they don't print the truth ?

Factitious

On the Huron River Greenway story, SR reporting bias against MetroParks actually got worse with time. Some of the last stories had factual errors, left out practically all of the facts favoring MetroParks, and didn't even resemble news stories; they belonged on the opinion page.

They usually do much better. Most of that hate for Erie MetroParks is attributable to that bad reporting. Thanks, SR!

twosenseworth

My facts were provided to me by the Erie County Treasurer, in the form of my property tax bill. There's no need for meetings or questions. The answer is simple. NO!

donutshopguy

I believe twosenseworth hit the nail on the head for most people. No matter if it's school or metro parks there is just no more money to be squeezed out of the taxpayers.

Olga88

I think that might help pozycjonowanie stron

talkin

I disagree with those posting regarding the county prosecutor representing the metroparks. The metroparks are not part of the county government - They are their own entity. The employees are not county employees. Metroparks has its own budget, hr, treasurer, etc. They are governed under state law...ORC 1545. I went to one of the strategic planning meetings to learn most of this.

As for the Sandusky REgister printing only true statements...that's funny! I have also attended the metroparks board meetings and heard for myself what is said and presented. when I read about it in the paper a week later I laugh because much of what is printed is skewed or untrue.

I chose to be an educated voter. I want to know for myself what is said in these meetings and what decisions are made before I will support something.

Factitious

Thanks for reminding us of that important and often overlooked point - that Erie MetroParks is NOT part of the county government. In Ohio, these park districts are separate entities, do not necessarily include entire counties, and are not necessarily bounded by county lines; ORC notwithstanding, Cleveland MetroParks claims parks in Lake and Medina Counties.

goldenbeargrad

Actually the County Prosecutor is prohibited from serving as legal counsel to the Metroparks. See Ohio Attorney General Opinion 94-035, dated June 2, 1994. In its conclusion it reads:

"It is, therefore, my opinion and you are hereby advised that:
1.A county prosecuting attorney, acting in an official capacity pursuant to R.C. 309.09, may not represent a county-wide park district established under R.C. 1545.01 or a joint ambulance district established under R.C. 505.71."

Babo

Your citation is an Attorney General Opinion construing old law.
The current statute in sub section (D) specifically allows the county prosecutor to represent the Park Board. http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/309.09.

Also, there is no excuse for the Park Board not trying to recover the millions spent on attorneys who received that money when they knew or should have known the Metro Parks did not own the land in the first place. It is the County prosecutor's responsibility to recover public funds obtained through misrepresentation or fraud.

Finally the citation is noteworthy because it emphasizes that a county prosecutor only has the powers given or implied by the Ohio Revised Code. So that leads to the question by what authority are Baxter and other county prosecutors exchanging positions to act as special prosecutors for one another when the ORC clearly states they only have authority to act in one county and they cannot hire any outside counsel?

goldenbeargrad

I stand corrected. Thank you for the current information.

Babo

You're welcome.

Ralph J.

I have tried several times to post a comment with older SR stories and other information. Why do I keep getting the message "The word verification was not completed correctly. Please complete this new word verification and try again. If you feel this is in error, please report that you are blocked.

Ralph J.

Alright, I have shortened my comment and deleted all older SR news story sources. Why does Portage County Metroparks say that they utilize the county prosecutor? Also why did Erie Metroparks use those visiting judges?

The Portage Metroparks state "The Portage Park District is an independent political subdivision of the State of Ohio formed in 1991 with its jurisdiction covering all of Portage County. Although it is independent of County government, the Park District utilizes the services of the Portage County Auditor, Treasurer and Prosecutor, and has received some financial support from the Portage County General Fund upon the discretion of the Portage County Commissioners."

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