Chagrin Valley Times
by Joan Demirjian
January 3, 2019
Members of the Russell Citizens Park District are considering how to proceed in the new year with virtually no funding.
A 0.25-mill levy on ballot last November was defeated leaving the park district created in 2017 with no working capital, according to park board Chairman Roy Podojil. It means the board must wait until they can put anther levy on the ballot in 2019.
“The park district is still functioning,” he said, however it has no capital other than the start-up funds from the township. Still, they are thinking down the road, he added.
There was an interest in a land purchase and the hope is that the property is not sold off. “We’re still watching it and would like it as part of our portfolio,” Mr. Podojil said.
“Our (immediate) needs are a secretary, who would be paid, and a computer,” Mr. Podojil said.
Presently Sue Baker, who works at the Russell Fire Station, is volunteering her services to the park district. A meeting of the park board is planned for January. The board is seeking a secretary to volunteer and stay with them until a levy can be passed.
Russell residents voted down two levies in November, one for the citizens park board and the other for the Russell Township Park District created in 1984.
Mr. Podojil said citizens park board members also want to again get involved with the Russell veterans memorial which will be placed at the Briar Hill Cemetery. On Dec. 19 Russell Township Trustees agreed to move forward on the memorial at the cemetery. Originally, plans called for placing it on township property adjacent to the south side of the Russell Police Station.
Donations might be solicited for the memorial project including for shrubbery stones and soil.
Trustees last month gave Robert Morgan approval to proceed with drafting plans for the memorial at a cost not to exceed $30,000.
“For now, all we are doing is, we’re here,” Mr. Podojil said of the Russell Citizens Park District. The park board will probably confer with Township Trustees “and see what they have in mind for us.” Trustees appoint members of the citizens park board.
Members of the older Russell Park District board are appointed by the sitting Geauga County Probate Court judge, who is now Judge Timothy Grendell.
Resident Shelley Chernin, who has supported the newer board, said she will be working to promote the citizens park district levy, whether it goes on the ballot in May or in November.
“I really do want to see the 511 park district succeed,” she said of the district created under Section 511 of the Ohio Revised Code. “If we conduct a solid campaign on why they need the money, I think we can pass the levy. I have high hopes for the future, and Russell parks will be in good shape again.”
There are people who want to donate land for parks and won’t give it to the older Russell park district, she said. “Once the 511 has support of a levy,” she said, “I think they will donate to the 511.”
Late last year, the older Russell Township Park District agreed to have its land managed by the Geauga Park District for 15 years. This occurred after the Geauga County Budget Commission refused to approve the park district spending plan making access to new levy revenue uncertain.
Ms. Chernin was among some residents who opposed the leasing agreement.
“They used a false impression that they didn’t have the money to maintain the Russell parks,” Ms. Chernin said of the Russell Township Park District.
In response to Ms. Chernin’s allegations, Russell Township Park District board Chairman Scott Wayt said the state audit is not yet complete and her claims of misleading the public are false.
Ms. Chernin said that she obtained copies of reports from Alger & Associates, the firm that reviewed the district’s finances. The Alger reports say the district does have money to maintain the Russell parks for the next four to five years, she said. “The park district did not have to lease the parks,” Ms. Chernin said.
At the time that the older park district agreed to lease its land, board members were saying there was only $30,000 in funds, she said, but in reality there was $127,000 in the general fund to use for maintenance.
“They did not have to lease the Russell parks,” Ms. Chernin said. “The preliminary reports from Alger were out before the lease was signed.”
“We asked them to wait before signing the lease. They wanted to lease the park land, and they knew there was not a financial necessity to lease the parks,” Ms. Chernin said.
Mr. Wayt pointed out that the state is still conducting its review of the documents from the Geauga County auditor and the park district’s accountant. “To date, the auditor of state has not provided its audit report and, as a result, the allegation that Russell Township Park District knew that it had ‘plenty of money’ to continue operation of the parks for many years is simply not true,” he said.
“The Russell Township Park District leased the operation of its park lands to Geauga Park District because it will be more efficiently run by an organization that has the manpower and expertise to properly manage parks and provide these resources at no additional cost to Russell Township residents,” Mr. Wayt said.