Work commitments prevented members of the Russell Township Park District board from attending a hearing with the Geauga County Budget Commission last week, park board chairman Dennis Suhay said on Monday.

The budget commission refused to approve the Russell park district’s budget after no park board members showed up at the 1:50 p.m. hearing on Aug. 19.

The park board positions are volunteer, Mr. Suhay said, and board members have full-time jobs. Mr. Suhay said he called the county budget office on Aug. 16 to find out the time and date of the hearing “because nobody ever contacted us with the date.

“If I had had more time, I could have gotten there,” Mr. Suhay said. He noted the park district commissioners had put the park district on the Uniform Accounting Network, a financial software package, as Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder wanted them to and also hired an accountant as he wanted last year. “We did both things.

Mr. Walder said last week that the meeting was public and the budget commission had no one to answer questions about the park budget. “I don’t know why they couldn’t make it. They never asked for an extension” prior to the start of the budget hearings, Mr. Walder said of park board members.

Mr. Walder said a Russell representative called at 11 a.m. on Aug. 19 when the budget sessions were ongoing and requested a hearing the next day when budget officials were not available.

“Our budget was in order,” Mr. Suhay said. Before the budget hearing the county had placed a red flag on the park district’s budget. “Our accountant Karen Alger called the Geauga County Auditor’s office, and they said not to worry about it. They said there was nothing to worry about,” he said.

“And we were given short notification of the hearing and there was no email, phone or mail notification,” Mr. Suhay said. “I had left a message and sent an email,” he said. “I was never contacted.

“We were never informed on when the hearing was until I called on Aug. 16. We didn’t have the information until three days before.

“I am more than willing to work with them,” he said, adding that he called the auditor’s office this week to ask for another meeting.

“I think it is unfair that our budget is not being approved just because no one showed up,” Mr. Suhay said. “I would be more than happy to meet and to give them the budget information.

“They didn’t approve the budget and Auditor Chuck Walder wanted to know what the park district’s administrative fees were and a break down,” Mr. Suhay said. “I’m more than happy to supply that information to him. The fees are $40,000 and include our lawyer, our accountant and being on the UAN. As far as I know, it was spot on,” he said of the budget.

The park district commissioners are hoping to place a small tax levy, possibly 0.25 mills, on the ballot in November of 2020 to cover operating expenses including the accountant and UAN fees, he said.

“And we have more than enough in the property budget for buying property,” Mr. Suhay said. There are properties out there, but nothing the board wants to go after right now, he noted. It is there in case something comes up, he added.

This is the second year in a row that the budget commission rejected the park district’s budget, Mr. Suhay said. “It is a result of errors years and years before our board and the errors were carried over from the past.”

Russell Township Park District was established in 1984 under the Ohio Revised Code 1545.

The district has leased its parklands to the Geauga Park District allowing the county district to operate and maintain the Russell land. “They are doing a good job,” Mr. Suhay said.

One of the projects being worked on now is the Modroo farm property of about 53 acres off Hemlock Road. Geauga Park District is going to put in two trails as soon as a parking area is installed. The Western Reserve Land Conservancy is to fund the parking lot project.

Land conservancy representatives recently held a walk-through of the Modroo and the Dines Road park properties to ensure no one is encroaching on the land, cutting trees or hunting. They check all the parks that are under a land conservation easement once a year. A majority of the Russell parklands are under conservation easements, Mr. Suhay said.

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