Parks continue to be a contentious issue in Geauga County.
The latest chapter in the park saga involves the Russell Township Park District and its plight to keep parklands in good order. The district, created in 1984 under Ohio Revised Code 1545, has acquired 422 acres of land over the years, most of it under conservation protection.
Disputes arose over the last several years in regard to Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell’s appointments and removal of board members to the 1545 board. Issues with allowing public comments at board meetings have also been a persistent concern.
Unhappy with Grendell’s control, a group of Russell residents took steps to create a second board last year– the Russell Citizens Park District –under ORC 511 in which Russell Township Trustees appoint board members.
The intent for some was to eventually eliminate the older 1545 board and have the newer 511 board take over. With trustees naming 511 park board members, Russell residents would have more control, proponents stated.
Recently, the Geauga County Budget Commission refused to certify the 1545 park board’s budget due to minor accounting errors. No money was taken; it was just in the wrong bank accounts. The county budget commission maintained that past levies were for land acquisition, not maintenance.
The 1545 board members disagreed but decided not to spend money on attorneys to fight the matter.
So, what now? The board has approximately $30,000 to maintain the parklands, and even if the 0.5-mill levy passes on Nov. 6, the 1545 board cannot get any proceeds for two years due in part to the budget commission’s decision.
Stuck in a corner? Not quite.
The 1545 board Chairman Scott Wayt had an idea. Why not have the Geauga Park District lease the Russell land, maintain it and even provide programming?
No one was expecting that idea.
Russell Trustee Jim Mueller called the whole thing a big mess. We agree.
So back to the 511 board taking over the 1545 board. Did anyone do legal research on what it would take to dissolve the 1545 board and have its 422 acres handed over to the 511 board? That’s unclear.
We are not convinced this is the best plan for Russell.
According to Mr. Wayt, state law says that if the 1545 park district is dissolved, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources gets first crack at the land. If they don’t want it, the land then goes to another entity in the county.
Now 511 proponents are talking about their park leasing the 1545 land. But 511 has no money right now. This district also has a levy on the Nov. 6 ballot for 0.25 mills. Even if it passes, that board won’t get that money immediately.
We agree with Russell Township Trustee Gary G. Gabram’s concerns about what type and length of lease would be negotiated between the 1545 board and the Geauga Park District. The proposal could be for 10, 25 or 100 years. It’s hard to predict. A long-term lease would not be good for Russell either.
Someone needs to research the legal steps and restrictions regarding the 1545 board as it pursues leasing its land to the county district. Also, someone must figure out how the 1545 board can get the money right now to keep the Russell parks going.
Taking positive action to resolve the issue is needed. More fighting will only further complicate the matter.