BAINBRIDGE — Costs, priorities and funding sources made up the discussion last Saturday between township trustees and residents who want the River Road Park playground replaced.
Township Trustees scheduled the special meeting allowing residents to voice their opinions on the playground that was taken down last month due to hazardous equipment.
The 20 or so residents at the Saturday session were clear, they want a playground.
The meeting was one of two planned on the topic with the next set for 6 p.m. this Monday at Town Hall. Trustees could make a decision on a playground as early as their next regular meeting on Sept. 23.
Before clearing the playground on Aug. 29, the broken equipment was fenced off with warning signs.
Today, only a toddler swing set, small climbing tubes and a seesaw remain.
Trustee Lorrie Benza asked residents if they want the same setup or something more extravagant. “We realize what was purchased and installed 17 years ago might not be what people want now,” she said.
“We are not closing River Road Park,” she said of the rumor that came up in the “echo chambers of social media.”
Trustees estimate a new playground could cost as much as $200,000.
Finding the money for the playground can be a challenge for townships that are bound to laws in the Ohio Revised Code, Mrs. Benza said. Cities and villages generally have their own governing charters that often give them more latitude.
In townships, the fiscal officer handles the money based on decisions made by the township trustees, she said. Townships are not permitted to collect income taxes. The major sources of income are property tax levies, Fiscal Officer Janice Sugarman explained, that have been approved by voters to support police, fire, zoning, parks, road maintenance and cemeteries.
The Kenston Local School District receives 56.81 percent of the real estate taxes generated and the township receives 23.08 percent, she said.
Money from the general fund goes to cemeteries, zoning, administrative salaries and parks and properties.
The River Road Park off of Chagrin River Road came about as a result of a litigation settlement in the 1990s. Canyon Lakes developer Hugh Edwards donated the River Road Park property to the township, Mrs. Benza said.
Mrs. Sugarman explained that in 2013, the Ohio General Assembly did away with inheritance taxes, eliminating an extra source of income for all municipalities, including Bainbridge.
Although Bainbridge at one time had a windfall from inheritance taxes, the Geauga County Budget Commission forced the township to spend the excess funds instead of creating savings. Trustees explained that townships are not permitted to maintain a rainy day fund.
Trustees have spent the last few weeks working with township employees to review the project list that is part of the general fund five-year plan. The project list includes repaving the walking trails at River Road Park and the parking lot at the Burns Lindow building and fixing the roads in the Restland Cemetery. Some of those projects will have to take a back seat if trustees proceed immediately with the playground at River Road Park.
Bainbridge Trustee Kristina O’Brien said it was a surprise that the playground system had to come down. “I would like to see River Road have equipment again.” The next step is what it will be replaced with. She noted that there are drainage issues that have to be fixed in areas including the playground caused by development there.
The township had several inspectors look over the playground, including Bainbridge Service Department manager of parks and properties Tab Gordon who is playground equipment certified.
Bainbridge Service Director Jim Stanek said the playground area always flooded after rain. The wood of the play gym and other equipment was exposed to the water. Cost of drainage could be about $20,000 according to Mr. Stanek. He noted the pieces of playground equipment that did not have to be taken down can be saved.
NOPEC issues energy saving grant money and did so for the replacement windows installed at Bainbridge Town Hall. The money that was budgeted from the general fund for the windows could be considered available for use where needed, such as the playground, trustees said.
One resident who said she did not want her name used said she would be willing to give funds to pay for the playground, which could be done by other residents as well as businesses. She would be opposed to a levy.
Mrs. Benza said a donation campaign would be good. They might look at replacing some basic playground pieces now and add other pieces in the future, she said. She added that a play ground for small children like the one at Heritage Park might be good.
“Do you want to see other playground equipment at all the parks?” she asked. Additional wants will cost, she said. “We are trying to gauge what our residents want. Is it only River Road or is it more?”
Mrs. O’Brien said she would like to see the River Road playground re-established, solve the drainage issue “and restore what we can.”
Amanda Huffman of Auburn said her family uses the park frequently. She suggested that a fund to maintain the playground into the future would be a good idea.
A group committee would be a good idea, Mrs. Sugarman said.
Mrs. Benza said people can choose. If a committee of residents was formed, its members could look at different options. “That would be wonderful.”
Mrs. Sugarman said they could look into obtaining grants such as through Nature Works. Some are matching grants, she added.
Mrs. O’Brien noted that pursuing grants could be a long process, and the amounts are not that large.
One of the questions will be whether the township has to seek bids on the playground project. The township has submitted that question to the Geauga County Prosecutor’s office.
Resident Henri Preuss was a member of the township’s original park board. Some 30 years ago, the board members installed the playground at Settlers Park. Times have changed and there are liabilities. “I’m pleased people who came are willing to get involved and willing to talk,” he said of those who attended Saturday’s meeting.
At the meeting, Township Trustees were in general agreement to move forward with the drainage work with discussions to continue on Sept. 16.