RUSSELL — Township voters could get a chance to weigh in on creating a new park district next spring.
A petition to form a park district under Ohio Revised Code 511 was presented to Township Trustees on July 6 by residents Barbara Berkeley and Shelley Chernin who have been collecting signatures over the past several weeks.
Trustees delivered the petition to the Geauga County Board of Elections to determine whether the more than 300 signatures are from valid registered voters. The petition by law requires 10 percent of the total voters in the township during the last general election. The next step would be presenting the initiative petition to a Geauga County Common Pleas Court judge for certification. The trustees would then be able to place the issue on the ballot.
The goal of the residents behind the petition for a second park district is to eventually replace the existing Russell Township Park District created under a different state statute which calls for the three park commissioners to be appointed by the Geauga County Probate Court judge.
Trustee James Mueller said creating a park district under Ohio Revised Code 511 has never been done in Geauga County. “We need to move along very cautiously.”
Mr. Mueller said he hopes trustees can go to the next probate court judge and ask to close down the existing park district and “roll everything into the Russell 511 township park district.”
In the meantime, Geauga County Probate Court Judge Timothy Grendell filled the third and last vacancy on the Russell Township Park District Commission by appointing resident David Genske Jr.
Many residents have been urging park district commissioners to purchase a portion of the farmland on Hemlock Road owned by Mary Modroo. This issue has been seen as the catalyst for residents to push for a second park district after current commissioners questioned the Modroo talks started by previous board members.
Recently, however, Commissioners Linda O’Brien and Charlie Butters began to look into the purchase along with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The park district has approximately $1.4 million generated from a voter-approved levy earmarked for parkland acquisitions. The proposed price for 52 acres of Modroo land is $1.5 million.
Residents who support land conservation have been crowding commission meetings voicing support for the Modroo purchase. Dr. Berkeley said there appears to be no plan to find additional money to complete the that deal.
Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Butters said this week that there was nothing to announce.
Mr. Genske said taxes are a big issue. If all the money in the current park district fund is used to purchase the Modroo land, he said, how will the district maintain its parks.
He also noted that the township could lose tax revenues if the Modroo land becomes part of the nonprofit park district.
Dr. Berkeley said in a message last week to residents that while establishing the 511 park district will be important in the future of preserving parklands, it may not impact the current push to purchase Modroo land.
After a judge certifies the 511 petition, the law calls for trustees to appoint three to five residents to that that board. That board would then meet with trustees to develop a plan and study costs of operating parkland owned by the township including the Bob Hall Field, according to Russell Fiscal Officer Chuck Walder.
With the time required for legal notices, the earliest the 511 park district issue could likely get on a ballot is next spring, Mr. Walder said. “We are looking for the will of the people.”
If the issue fails, the board of park commissioners would be dismissed by trustees. If the 511 park board issue passes, the new district would be established.