The Portage Park District wants to improve the trails and parks it has and to open the more than 800 acres it owns but can’t afford to develop.
To do that, the district is asking voters to approve issue 10, a half-mill, 10-year additional property tax levy that would bring in $1.63 million annually. Levy proponents say the levy will cost the owner of a property with a $100,000 market value about $17.50 per year, or less than $1.50 per month.
This is the district’s sixth try for a levy since it was formed in 1991. Voters said no to levies in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2008.
Currently, the district is operating on $99,500 a year with only one full-time director and two part-time maintenance employees to operate and manage 1,300 acres and 14 miles of hike and bike trails around the county.
About half the current budget, ($45,000) comes from donations. Portage County commissioners provide $18,000 from the general fund, and the district gets another $26,000 in Local Government Funds from the state. The remainder comes from rentals, royalties and interest.
The extra revenue would allow the district to maintain and repair its existing parks and trails and provide recreation and education programs; develop and open the 835 acres currently closed to the public; provide funds to match grants to create new trails to connect communities across the county, and conserve critical natural areas for wildlife and water quality.
The park district can’t take advantage of most grants because it lacks the funds required for the local match. Park supporters say millions of dollars in grants that could improve Portage parks and trails go instead to other Ohio counties.
If the levy passes, the district said it would have matching funds for grants to: extend the Portage Hike and Bike Trail to West Branch State Park; link the Franklin Connector Trail with the rest of the Portage trail; extend the Headwaters Tail to Aurora; accept the donation of the Shaw Woods Equestrian Park/Buckeye Trail Link; plan and partner for the “Suffield-Brimfield-Kent Trail along Mogadore Reservoir; and conserve critical natural areas of habitat and water quality protection.
Proponents point out that studies show parks are good for economic development. They say it increases property values, spurs tourism, and provides places for free, year-round healthy recreation for all ages.
Levy supporters note that funding for the Portage Park District is significantly lower than that of surrounding counties. All of the counties have property levies Geauga County, to the north, has a park budget of $9 million which works out to about $96 per person.
To the south, Stark’s is $7 million which equates to about $19 per person. Summit County’s park district has an annual budget of $17 million, equal to $32 per person.
Parkland to be opened if the levy passes include: the 95-acre Chagrin Headwaters preserve in Mantua Township; the 63-acre Breakneck Creek Preserve in Ravenna Township; the 504-acre Morgan Preserve in Shalersville and the 80-acre Walter Preserve in Palmyra.