The following article appeared on August 31, 2016 on Chagrin Valley Today, the online news site of the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here.
Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 11:45 pm
Russell Park District’s annual budget was approved in a 2-1 vote Tuesday by the Geauga County Budget Commission. It was the second review after the budget matter was tabled last week.
The budget commission is comprised of Geauga County Auditor Frank Gliha, Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz and Geauga County Treasurer Chris Hitchcock.
At the Aug. 23 meeting, budget commission members questioned why more than $1.3 million raised through a park levy had not yet been appropriated or budgeted for use to purchase parkland.
Park Commissioner Charlie Butters represented the Russell Park District at the budget hearing. The other park commissioners are Linda O’Brien and David Genske.
Levy money is earmarked for parkland acquisition.
After the Aug. 23 hearing, Mr. Gliha said, “The park commission didn’t say how they are spending the levy money. They weren’t allocating it. You can’t sit on it forever.”
Mr. Flaiz noted on Tuesday that the park levy funds have not been used to buy land in the past five years and more than $1.3 million has accumulated in the fund.
The park commission indicated that money would be used to purchase the Modroo farmland for a park, Mr. Flaiz said, but the panel has not formally budgeted the funds for that purpose. Mr. Butters said the park commission would study the issue.
The answers were not satisfactory, so the budget commission tabled the issue, Mr. Flaiz said. He noted that after the Aug. 23 hearing, the budget commission was potentially not going to certify the collection of the last year of the levy adding up to $150,000 in 2017.
Park district commissioners have since retained the counsel of attorney Dale Markowitz who told the budget commission Tuesday that Russell park commissioners are confident they would complete the Modroo land purchase by the end of the year.
The budget commission then voted 2-1 to approve the park district’s budget, based on that statement of intent, Mr. Flaiz said.
Geauga budget commission member Mr. Hitchcock voted no, however, saying he was opposed to the collection of the last year of the levy money.
The levy expires next year and the park district does not intend to ask request another for parkland purchase, the budget commission was told.
Mr. Butters noted on Tuesday after the hearing that Mr. Hitchcock voted no because he does not approve of the collection of the $150,000 in 2017.
The park district for the last six years “has been lying to the taxpayers that the park district would be buying land and they never did,” Mr. Butters said in recapping what was stated at the hearing. Mr. Butters was appointed this year to the park district.
As to the Modroo land purchase, Mr. Butters said there is a draft letter of intent “but there is a lot yet to do and we have to make sure it meets our requirements.” Russell park commissioners are working with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy on the property purchase.
A conservation easement on the approximate 52 acres by the land conservancy is not necessarily a part of the purchase, Mr. Butters said. “Our goal is to make sure it is available, accessible and usable,” he said of the land.
At the Aug. 23 budget commission meeting, Mr. Butters said he was asked about a back-up plan if Modroo was not bought with the funds. He said he has been approached by landowners with parcels of 10-17 acres that could be feasible for parkland in the future.
Mr. Butters said of the budget commission, “They accused us (park commissioners) of hoarding money.” He noted that the previous commission members added to the total amount and did not spend it.
Residents in support of the purchase of the Modroo property have been pushing for the park district to buy a portion of the Modroo property, and they have also pushed to form a second park district, which is in process.
If an agreement with the owner is put together, Mr. Markowitz would review it for the park district, Mr. Butters said.