2010-11-20 / News

Levy rejection could close parks

By Scott Rawdon

GRANVILLE – All Licking Parks District operated parks may shut down, depending upon the amount of money the county is able to provide the district.

Licking Parks District Director Russ Edgington met with district commissioners last week to discuss the district’s future in the wake of a narrowly defeated 0.2 mill five-year levy Nov. 2. The future does not look bright.

“Now people are coming out to support the parks, but it’s a total package,” said Edgington. He said he appreciates the outpouring from volunteers, but without the levy income, the parks can’t operate.

Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb explained that the park district is an unmandated expense for the county, meaning that the county is not required to contribute money to the district like other county departments such as the Licking County Sheriff’s Office, hence the need for the levy. The county is working to cut its overall expenses by wide margins and Bubb said it’s doubtful the parks district will receive any more than it did last year, possibly less.

The Licking Park District will submit two budgets to the county commissioners – Budget A for $383,242 and Budget B for $420,836. Budget B would allow the district to retain its employees and operate its parks at least seasonally. Budget A forces Edgington to layoff four employees, leaving only him, and close the district’s parks. Only the park office and structures that are privately rented for events and generate revenue would remain open. Bike trails would not close, but there would be no security and little maintenance. The Haunted Drive Through and the Carriage Classic would be the only programs to survive because they generate revenue. All other nature related programs would end.

Edgington presented the budget options to the Licking County Commissioners Tuesday. “Budget B is so close to the bone,” he said. There’s a 10 percent difference between staying open and closing. “People fail to realize the complexities of running parks,” said Edgington.

County commissioners allocated the park district roughly $260,000 last year. That money coupled with a $200,000 carryover allowed operations to continue this year. There is no carryover this year, said Edgington.

“It would be very difficult for us to give them a bigger budget,” said Bubb. The county is cutting five percent from the sheriff’s department and board of elections budgets and there’s simply no extra money to distribute, particularly for non-mandated programs like the parks district.

“We can’t look at increases for any un-mandated services when we have to cut for mandated services,” said Licking County Commissioner Doug Smith. He said the county is cutting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the sheriff’s department’s budget. Smith said there’s “great uncertainty” with this year’s state funding to the county.

“It breaks all three of our hearts that (the levy) didn’t pass,” said Licking County Commissioner Brad Feightner.

“It’s not that we’re not supportive of the parks,” said Smith. “We must continue to work to fund the mandated expenses.” He added the parks may have to work with less than they received last year.

Licking Park District Commissioners agreed the levy will return to the ballot spring 2011. “May is an obvious go,” said Commissioner Jerry Weaver. He said November general elections typically have many naysayers.

Until then, commissioners need to look for an “untapped constituency” to help pass the next levy attempt, said Licking Park District Commissioner James Bradley. “We need to tell voters what we can do for their communities.”

“People on the western side (of Licking County) don’t see themselves as part of the community,” said Weaver. He believes they associate themselves more with Franklin County and Columbus.

Edgington said the district typically focuses its levy campaigns on the county’s regions that support park levies. Places that don’t lend as much support, such as Pataskala and Johnstown, are largely ignored. “West enders don’t know what the county offers them,” he said.

Bradley suggested they work on younger voters, particularly students at OSU Newark and Denison University. “The only thing we’ve never done is knock on doors,” he said.

Weaver said fundraising should be a priority. Bradley said the district shouldn’t forget about vying for smaller donations as well as larger. “If 30,000 people each gave us a dollar...,” he said.

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