Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – The Pickaway County Park District is in the early stages of drafting a proposed tax levy that would help pay for maintenance and improvements at all Pickaway County parks.
Tom Davis, executive director of the Park District, discussed the effort with Circleville City Council at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Davis said the Park District board voted in January to pursue a 10-year, .5 mill levy next year that would generate about $680,000 per year for the benefit of local parks. By preliminary estimates, he said about $170,000 per year would be designated for the city of Circleville to maintain and operate its parks. Additional funds would be distributed to villages and townships throughout the county, leaving about $300,000 per year for use by the Park District for the five park properties under its authority.
Davis said there are about 36 parks in Pickaway County, including the state and metro parks.
The decision to pursue a property tax levy, he said, was inspired by the need for a stable source of funding for the Park District, which currently has none.
“In 2015, the county commissioners provided us with approximately $10,000 per year for the next five years and office space so we can continue operations,” Davis said. “We made a presentation, and they graciously provided us $10,000 for the next five years contingent on us trying to find a permanent funding mechanism.”
Davis said funds from the proposed levy could be used for anything park-related, including operations and staffing. It also could be used to provide matching funds when seeking grants for larger improvement projects.
“Since I have been executive director, about a year and a half now, the primary emphasis I have heard from people is that we need a park organization that looks after parks in the whole county and helps provide programming, finances and expertise,” Davis said.
City parks currently have the benefit of Friends of the Circleville Parks, a volunteer organization whose members help take care of the property, but other park properties throughout the county do not have that benefit.
Even Friends of the Circleville Parks, however, generally have more work than its volunteers can handle.
“Specifically at Mary Virginia Crites-Hannan Park, there are a lot of volunteers that take care of that place,” Davis said. “But the volunteer base is getting older, it’s getting smaller, and it’s tough to maintain those properties like they need to be maintained.”
Davis said a ballot initiative could not be put to voters strictly for park properties outside village and city limits and must include everyone countywide. The Park District’s proposal is to establish partnerships with the city and villages to put the levy on together and share not only in the revenues but also in the costs of placing the levy on the ballot, which could total $30,000 or more.
He said the Park District also intends to create a Parks and Trails Development Committee to raise funds, make presentations and talk to groups about the proposed park levy.
Davis said the Park District is currently waiting for an opinion from the Pickaway County Prosecutor as to whether its proposed tax levy is feasible. With that approval, they will return to city council with the goal of obtaining a letter of support and a signed agreement that outlines details of the proposal.
Davis said the Park District hopes to have a levy on the ballot in November of 2017.
Davis said the Pickaway County Park District was established in 2002, and in 2006 it received leases from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for all canal lands within the county.
In 2009, it received some funding from the Pickaway County Commissioners and the Pickaway County Community Foundation to help purchase the first two miles of the Pickaway Trail, which would extend from Canal Park to New Holland. In 2011, additional funds were provided through ODNR and ODOT for 14 additional miles of Pickaway Trail.
In 2010, the Park District took over management of Logan Elm State Memorial Park, and in 2015 it received funds to pave the Roundtown Trail that runs from Ohio Christian University through the Circleville City Schools property to the Pickaway County Family YMCA property on Nicholas Drive.
More information on the Pickaway County Park District can be found at www.pickawaycountyparks.org.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal