From Chagrin Valley Today.com
By Brian Doering
July 15, 2021
Geauga Park District commissioners on Monday took steps to find permanent health coverage for employees and re-establish services, including its communications base, more than two weeks after cutting fiscal ties with the county government.
A quiet crowd of residents attended the meeting at Meyer Center at Big Creek Park and voiced concerns after the session.
The past weeks have been filled with confusion after park district commissions voted to change the charter, hire a fiscal officer and select a bank. Cutting ties with the Geauga auditor and treasurer on June 28 meant that the county could no longer issue paychecks, pay health insurance premiums or provide internet and phone services.
On Monday, the board approved supplemental appropriations of $65,000 for information technology services covering new software to support the park district’s day-to-day operations. The general fund budget line item for the IT department was $188,996 and this amendment increased it to $253,996, according to park documents.
“Some of this is our separation to our own IT needs,” district Executive Director John Oros said during the meeting. “This is the setup and amended budget from now until the end of the year.”
The $65,000 would be covering park district costs for the purchase of equipment from third-party contactors such as Black Box and Windstream, Mr. Oros explained.
Communications with the public have been hampered since the separation. A message on the district’s website this week states that the organization is experiencing a temporary phone, email and internet interruption “due to unforeseen circumstances.” The site lists new phone numbers and a Gmail address for its contact information as well as a list of interrupted services at seven of the 27 district parks. Park employees have been using Gmail accounts to send messages in place of the former email under Geauga County.
Dave Partington, a trustee for Protect Geauga Parks, who attended the Monday meeting, questioned the expenditure. “That was pretty sketchy information about the $65,000,” Mr. Partington said.
“We’re not going to let this go, this is wrong what they’re doing, it’s wrong and it’s foolish,” Mr. Partington said after the meeting. “It’s a chain of command, [Geauga Probate Judge Timothy] Grendell at the top, these guys next, Oros and now the [new park district] fiscal officer and treasurer.”
Geauga County Auditor Charles Walder reached out to the Times to clarify the issue regarding the park district and the county automatic data processing board.
“The Geauga Park District had complete control over when their services would terminate, the ADP board simply advised the parks months ago that ADP services would terminate with the park’s appointment of a treasurer and separation from the county.”
Mr. Walder said the park district never asked the ADP board for any consideration. “In fact, they asked to be put on the agenda of a recent ADP board meeting and then canceled just prior to the meeting,” he said. “The Geauga Park District had complete control over when their services would terminate, the ADP board simply advised the parks months ago that ADP services would terminate with the park’s appointment of a treasurer and separation from the county.”
Park commissioners on Monday also addressed health coverage for its 46 employees. They approved a resolution reimbursing the Geauga County Board of Commissioners for $53,992. The money was borrowed after the fiscal separation so the park district could pay healthcare premiums on July 1.
Geauga County Commissioner Timothy Lennon said the loan was approved so there would be no lapse in health coverage for park employees. COBRA coverage was extended to the park district employees under federal law, which still allowed them access to their group health plan in order to avoid loss of coverage.
Park District Vice President Pat Preston stated that there was no lapse in coverage for park employees.
“They [employees] have to pay their portion like they currently do, and I pay the rest so there is nothing that is unique or detrimental to the employee, it’s a seamless operation totally run by the government, and it is designed for this exact purpose,” he explained.
Mr. Oros said that on June 30 and July 2 he reached out to the County Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio regarding employee healthcare. CEBCO was the provider of the park district’s healthcare prior to July 1. The plan is to set up the Geauga Park District as its own employee group under the consortium, he said. This is the preferred option for providing healthcare coverage to park district employees, according to a July 6 park board memo.
CEBCO plans to make the coverage retroactive to July 1, Mr. Oros said, and a proposal will be presented to the park board on July 16.
Human Resource Coordinator Christine Ward on Monday presented information related to other healthcare options.
“I reached out to two other individuals, and I am getting quotes from those two,” Mrs. Ward said. “They said once you start getting more people involved, they’re going to be reaching out to the same insurance companies and it’s not beneficial, so I’m working with Oswald companies and Ohio Insurance Service Agency so hopefully I’ll have those books this week.”
Park commissioners approved a temporary appropriations budget for 2022 in the amount of $7.38 million, reflecting $860,127 less than the 2021 amended budget. The mid-year budget is approved every July in preparation for the budget commission meeting, which will take place on Aug. 18.
“I’d like to thank the staff for their hard work on the budget, each department does budgets and submits them to our fiscal department, then it’s approved by myself and the fiscal department to get ready to submit to the budget commission,” Mr. Oros said.
In other business, Mr. Oros reviewed his July 6 memo to the park commissioners regarding a request from Ranger Department union liaison Denise Weisbarth requesting Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
Park commissioners voted not to change the union labor agreement but approved a revision that allows employees to exchange four of the 10 holidays employees are given at the discretion of the executive director.
“Some employees may not like to take Columbus Day off for example or President’s Day,” said Mr. Oros. “This will give them options to take a floating holiday.”
The next park board meeting is Aug. 9 at 8:30 a.m.