The following article appeared in Chagrin Valley Today, the website of the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here. Please visit ChagrinValleyToday.com for a wide range of important local news coverage.
Chagrin Valley Times
May 18, 2016
The implication that one of the nearly 200 citizens who crowded into Russell Town Hall last week to question the Russell Park Commission’s plans — or lack thereof — for 52 acres of farmland lacked standing because she is a renter was sadly enlightening. Property taxes, of course, are figured in the cost of rent, which certainly invests renters in their communities.
Property taxes lie at the heart of this controversy over the township park district’s potential acquisition of the Modroo farmland south of Hemlock Road. Township voters approved a 1-mill park levy in 1992 and renewed it several times since then for the express purpose of adding parkland, thus preserving it from development and securing the community’s semirural atmosphere.
The levy raises about $200,000 per year and has resulted in a current balance of about $1.3 million. According to the proposal worked out by the previous three-member park commission — which had a total of 67 years of volunteer experience, knowledge and loyalty to the district’s mission — 49 acres would be purchased for about $1.4 million. Another three acres would be purchased by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy for about $200,000. The park levy expires this year but, even without its renewal, would continue to bring in taxes through next year.
Given the new directions in parks administration in Geauga County under inexperienced commissioners appointed by Probate Judge Timothy J. Grendell over the past couple years, it remains to be seen whether Russell voters will even be given the opportunity to renew their park levy. The judge himself took action in 2014 to have a Geauga Park District levy suspended, even though county voters had intended it to run through 2025.
The two new Russell park commissioners appointed by Mr. Grendell, Linda J. O’Brien and Charles Butters, have expressed reservations about the cost of the Modroo farmland. Questions also have been raised about a presumed loss of tax revenue for the township.
The blended cost of approximately $29,000 per acre for Modroo land actually is a little less than what was paid for the 103-acre former Muggleton farm property in nearby South Russell 10 years ago and what was paid per acre for a 10-acre addition to South Russell Community Park last year.
Although future costs to the township for preservation of the Modroo property would be minimal, the same cannot be said if the land is sold for development. Under its three-acre residential zoning, as many as 17 homes could be built there, requiring additional road, police and fire services. At the current annual cost per pupil in the Chagrin Falls School District, where the land is located, it takes nearly $900,000 in property value to pay for each additional student.
Property taxes are indeed a good reason to value land preservation.