This article originally appeared in the Geauga County Maple Leaf. Our thanks to the Maple Leaf for permission to republish it here.
Geauga Maple Leaf
August 30, 2016
by John Karlovec
The Russell Township Park District Commissioners unanimously voted Aug. 26 to hire a prominent Chardon attorney to help navigating the tax budget review process before the county budget commission, which threatened last week to suspend collection of $152,000 of levy money in 2017.
The special meeting was held at The West Woods Nature Center and was attended by a dozen residents.
The park district’s current 1-mill levy expires Dec. 31, with the final year of collection in 2017.
When Dale Markowitz, a partner at Thrasher, Dinsmore and Dolan, announced his hourly billing rate was $390, resident Mary Lou Toth exclaimed, ‘You’re kidding me.”
Park Board President Linda O’Brien said Markowitz’s rate was “standard” and that he came highly recommended.
And when Toth questioned the need for the park district to retain legal counsel at all, O’Brien shot back, “I disagree 100 percent.”
“On a million dollar deal, you retain an attorney and we would have retained someone and Mr. Markowitz comes very highly recommended to us,” O’Brien explained. “None of here are attorney and none of us here are financial experts.“
O’Brien noted past park boards as well as the county park district had retained Markowitz to assist them in buying park land.
“This is not a new process,” said O’Brien.
“Ma’am, we’re getting ready to possibly spend a million dollars,” park commissioner David Genske Jr. told the woman as her complaining continued. “We want to spend a million dollars; we need help.”
The board did not budget an amount for Markowitz’s services, but said the expense would come out of the park district general fund.
Toth continued to interrupt the meeting prompting Markowitz to tell the audience the park district’s meeting was not a public hearing.
“It is a public meeting. You have a right to conduct your business. There is no right for the audience to continue to interrupt you and I would recommend that we continue on the course of importance here, which is to talk about the budget issue.”
At the end of the meeting, if the audience had any questions, Markowitz told the board it would be appropriate to entertain their questions or comments.
Park Commissioner Charlie Butters said he did not totally disagree with the budget commission’s proposed action.
“We are moving forward on the Modroo property and making good progress,” O’Brien said. “The Modroo property is not projected in our budget because we won’t put it into our budget until we have signed agreements. We are hopeful that that comes quickly.”
At this point, however, there is no signed agreement, so she explained the board was not going to “reproduce the errors of the past” and include more than $1 million in anticipated expenditures on the budget only to see that figure possibly end up a zero.
“That is not our hope. We want this to come to fruition and even hopefully this year,” added O’Brien.
She said an offer has been extended to property owner Mary Modroo through the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which she said is hosting a “major fundraiser” at the end of the month relative to funding its portion of the Modroo property acquisition.
“We are both moving ahead on the same track,” she added.
One resident asked Butters his reasoning for telling the budget commission the likelihood of the park district purchasing the Modroo property was 50/50.
“We’re working hard on it; we’re doing the best that we can,” Butters said. “It’s in the hands of the land conservancy to make their side of the deal work. They’re working very hard on that.”
Markowitz said the purchase of park land for a public park district is a “long and laborious process.”
He recommended the board create a capital reserve account that would allow the park district to accumulate money for capital projects, provided the money is spent within 10 years.
“It gives you time and it gives you the opportunity to do it right rather than to be rushed into it,” Markowitz said, explaining the money could be spent on things such as land acquisitions and park improvements. “You could have separate capital reserve accounts for different purposes.”
He added the budget commission cannot stop the park district from accumulating money in a capital reserve account, because “it’s allowed to stay there for up to 10 years.”
The park board took no action on Markowitz’s recommendation.
The park district is scheduled to appear for a second hearing before the budget commission at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.