GPD Addresses Budget Commission’s Concerns 

Geauga Maple Leaf

August 26, 2022

by Brian Doering

After the Geauga County Budget Commission gave a tongue lashing to Geauga Park District officials over their submitted tax budget Aug. 16, they made some amendments in the hopes to get it passed Aug. 31.

During a special meeting Aug. 24, Geauga Park District Commissioners passed a resolution acknowledging the budget commission’s concerns — which included rescinding a resolution to create a reserve fund for land acquisition and authorizing Fiscal Officer Jennifer Pae to request an amended or renewed official Certificate of Estimated Resources from the commission to move the reserve fund monies to the general fund for the 2023 tax budget.

“We’ve taken the budget commission’s points to heart, hence the resolution, and we are preparing accordingly for the next meeting with the budget commission on Aug. 31,” said Executive Director John Oros.

During the Aug. 16 hearing, Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder, Prosecutor Jim Flaiz and Treasurer Chris Hitchcock, who comprise the budget commission, confronted GPD officials on numerous budget items, such as a discrepancy in revenue numbers and a $1.3 million land acquisition fund they claim was unlawfully created.

The budget commission voted to table the 2023 tax budget until Aug. 31 to allow GPD to address the concerns.

Oros pointed out in a shared Powerpoint Presentation from the Geauga County Auditor’s Office the $6,290 discrepancy between the budget commission’s numbers moving forward to the GPD’s 2023 tax budget submission.

Oros said both parties knew about the discrepancy and thought it was simply overlooked.

“Immediately following the meeting, our fiscal officer, Jennifer Pae, and finance assistant, Dawn Sweeney, were able to look back through some old records and we found in documents, ledger reports from the county auditor and submissions from the county treasurer that this discrepancy was identified in 2020,” said Oros. “We will circle back around to the budget commission and let them know that discrepancy was known about.”

GPD attorney John Slagter appeared before park board members to address the concerns regarding the land acquisition fund.

“There’s been an opinion or question over whether park districts can create these types of capital reserve funds for acquisition. There was no question over the need for this or otherwise and we submitted ample evidence of why we needed that,” said Slagter. “There just is a question over authority and the creation of this fund.”

Slagter said the auditor had indicated the park district should have reviewed and looked at the Ohio compliance supplement.

“We actually went back to double check and the state auditor actually identifies that park districts have authority. You have the authority to create these funds,” said Slagter. “Just because the state auditor says it doesn’t mean legally you can or can’t.”

Slagter added the best decision would be to move the rescinded fund into the general fund, where the park district is permitted to do it.

“I think that will address the concerns by the budget commission rather than fight over it,” said Slagter. “That will be how we move forward.”

Park Commissioner Pat Preston addressed the budget commission’s question over whether or not it is reasonable to set aside taxpayer money for additional parkland while publicly stating an intention to close parks.

“Coming into 2022, they reduced our budget by $1.9 million, so our fear was that by the end of 2022, we would have very little carryover funds,” said Preston. “If the taxing commission decided to take another $1.9 million from us in 2023, we would not be able to meet our payroll requirements.”

He added the budget commission’s comment is being taken out of context and does not relate to what the conversation was.

“We don’t have any ability to understand what they are telling us in a budget commission ahead of time,” said Preston. “If they took $1.9 million for a very simple mistake last year, they might do the same thing again. We are not casting dispersions, but it’s something we have to contemplate.”

Slagter addressed the budget commission’s issue with the park district not having public comment during meetings.

“I am before public bodies all of the time. It’s not legally required and there’s many ways you can do it,” said Slagter. “They suggested that it may be beneficial, so some of these issues don’t come up during the budget commission or otherwise. They just want you to consider that.”

Oros said in terms of reasonableness for land acquisition, the resolution includes an appendix with GPD’s 2023-2028 Capital Improvement Plan.

“As we have said in the past, there are negotiations associated with land acquisition, so we wouldn’t comment on a specific piece of property as part of that need in that capital plan,” said Oros. “I just want to recognize that our intentions are good and we look forward to meeting with the budget commission again and identifying a path forward.”

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