Our Portage Park District has a funding crisis! Financial support from the state and the county has declined by 50 percent over the past two years causing our parks to rely on private donations for basic operations. The reality is that our doors are just barely open.
A stable funding source must be secured that can provide for the basic operations and improvements for the Portage Park District. As a result, the Portage Park District Board of Commissioners approved placing a 1/2 mill operating and improvement levy to benefit the Portage Park District on the May 6 ballot.
The Park District has 1,300 acres of parkland and 14 miles of hike and bike trails. Our parks hosted over 400,000 users last year. Of the total park land held by the Park District, 835 acres are closed to the public due to lack of funding. The Portage Parks has only one full-time park director and two part-time maintenance employees.
While our total operating budget for Portage Parks for 2014 is $99,500, all of our neighboring counties have significantly more support for their parks thanks to levy dollars. When you compare our budget with the annual operating budgets of Summit ($17 million), Mahoning ($11 million), Geauga ($9 million) and Stark ($7 million), you can see how far behind we are.
This past summer and fall the Portage Park District along with the Portage Park Foundation attended numerous community events in all parts of our county and interacted with thousands of county residents. The feedback was overwhelmingly in support of the Park District. Many expressed a strong desire for more hike and bike trails as well as access to and preservation of Portage County's great natural treasures.
Last spring we met with numerous county-wide community leaders asking for their input and advice. They affirmed the critical role that the Portage Park District has in our county's economic vitality and future growth. We also heard feedback about how the parks play an important role in our quality of life.
We continue to seek citizen and community input and guidance for a strong, healthy Park District that meets your expectations. If successful, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 property only $17.50 per year. These funds would be used to:
1) Maintain existing parks and trails. Replace roofs and repair structures. Resurface and improve hike and bike trails. Manage natural resources. Provide recreation and education programs for all age groups.
2) Open 740 acres of parkland across Portage County that the Park District already owns but can't afford to open and manage.
3) Plan and create new parks and trails. Extend and link the Portage Hike and Bike Trail and the Headwaters Trail to other parks and trails across the county. Become a partner in the planning and creation of a Suffield-Brimfield-Kent trail.
4) Conserve critical natural areas for wild life habitat and water quality protection.
$17.50 per year (less than $1.50 per month) for a $100,000 property is a small price to pay for such a great return on our investment.
Please consider volunteering for the levy campaign and/or make a donation in support of levy effort. This can be done through the website at www.citizensforportageparks.com. But most importantly, vote "Yes" for the Portage Park District on May 6.
Parks "YES!" For fun ... for health ... for life
Tom Clapper is a member of the Portage Park District Foundation and is serving as chair of Citizens for Portage Park District Levy Committee. Green Portage is a monthly feature of the Record-Courier in cooperation with the Portage Park District Foundation