Public parks provide a backdrop for some of life’s most special moments, from weekend double headers on the baseball field to nature walks with family members, picnic dates, friendly competitions on the tennis court and taking a refreshing dip in the pool on a hot summer day.
With those life-enriching opportunities in mind, the Bellefontaine Parks and Recreation District is proposing an earned income tax levy on the Nov. 7 ballot that that would provide a major boost to the department’s operations and capital funds, with the goal of providing area residents with much improved park amenities for generations to come.
If the levy funding is secured, the parks department would be able to carry out their Master Plan, which is based upon recommendations for needed city park improvements and the replacement of aging infrastructure as described by community members in surveys completed in the fall of 2022. The plan provides the priorities for the 17 parks managed by the department, along with Myeerah Nature Preserve.
“This levy is unique in that we went to the community first, to ask what improvements they’d like to see at our city parks, and then put together the Master Plan based on those responses,” Park Board of Trustees President Pat Ellis said. “Now we’re asking for funding to help fulfill those requests and then will ask the community to help keep us accountable.”
“The parks are used by all ages and are open 365 days a year,” Parks Superintendent Kris Myers said. “When he opened up the disc golf course at Rutan Park, we never imagined how much use it would get, even with snow on the ground.
“Our new pickleball courts are much in demand, too, as a sport that all ages really enjoy. Our offerings hit at different demographics, and we would be excited to expand what is available here locally through the passage of the levy and the capital improvement projects.”
If approved by voters, the 0.267 percent income tax increase would be dedicated solely to the department, generating between $1.2 million and $1.5 million per year, based upon historical income tax collection rates. Only earned income would be taxed by the levy; retirees on fixed income will not be affected by the increase.
The levy would increase the city’s current overall income tax rate of 1.333 to 1.60 percent, which is in line with municipalities in some of the surrounding counties, including 1.5 percent in Marysville; and 1.75 percent in both Sidney and Troy.
For a household with an income of $50,000 per year, the levy would cost them an additional $133.50 per year, or $37 cents per day, according to the levy committee’s website, yes4parks.com.
The city parks are currently funded at an average of $35.53 per capita. The levy would put the spending closer to the national per capita average for communities our size of $85.84.
In recent years, the parks department has struggled to keep up with its aging facilities and equipment, with the trickle down effect after budget cuts were enacted by the city in 2004. Following the failure of the city’s income tax levy at that time nearly 20 years ago, the Park Fund transfer was cut by 20 percent.
“This was when other department budgets were cut 10 percent,” Myers said. “People were laid off in other departments at the time and we were cut the dollars that were primarily for maintenance.”
Once again, the city went though tough economic times from 2008-2012, where do more with less became the way of life, the parks superintendent noted.
“We took on more mowing and the cemetery to survive. The cemetery has funds to cover the operation, but we had to shift some of our supervision and time to that operation.
“In the years since then, we have been able to gradually get some capital dollars, some grants and fundraised for a few projects, but at our current pace, we only get further behind each year. The bottom line of ‘neglect’ has everything to do with available dollars and trying to make the best decisions at the time.”
Levy funding would be divided initially by approximately 40 percent for operating expenses and 60 percent for capital projects. The capital funding also gives the parks department a leg up when applying for grants and other funding sources that require a local match.
“It would help us to go after those necessary, but costly projects,” Myers said.
If the ballot issue garners voter approval, residents would be able to observe work beginning immediately on short-term projects in the spring 2024, with facelifts planned to restrooms at the parks, along with upgrading playground equipment.
“I’m 72 years old; some of the playground equipment I played on as a kid,” Ellis said. “We’re looking to replace aging playground equipment and we’re looking at accessibility issues as well.”
Larger scale projects included in the Master Plan would begin to come full circle with a full collection of the levy in 2025.
Priorities include the replacement of Hoffman Pool, which has reached its limits and deterioration increases yearly. Planning for the pool’s replacement with a new aquatic center would begin in the short-term, with the goal of installing the new aquatic center within four to five years.
The Master Plan details amenities for the aquatic center estimated at $8.5 to $10 million, such as a zero-depth pool, kiddie area, lazy river, diving boards, slides and a spray pad.
The survey also found that the city’s historic Harmon Field Park is greatly underutilized and is located in a large residential area with great potential. A $1.3 to $1.5 million project is planned at this park to add new features, such as a spray pad and filtration system, new playground equipment and surfacing, along with basketball court improvements and adding restrooms.
To view the Master Plan in full and for frequently asked questions about the levy and citizen endorsements, voters are urged to visit www.yes4parks.com. The Facebook page “Yes 4 Bellefontaine Parks” also provides helpful resources.