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City says hold it on park restrooms
City says hold it on park restrooms
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
A request last week for an additional $30,000 from Chardon City Council for permanent restrooms at Mel Harder Park did not pass the smell test with city administrators.
Although council was receptive to the allocation, city Finance Director Jeffrey Smock and City Manager David Lelko said such a request should be put on hold until next year's budget is decided.
"My personal opinion is, as the guy who likes to keep his finger on the money, I think it would be fiscally irresponsible at this point to do that," Mr. Smock said. "We've got too many other things that haven't been put to bed yet."
The request made by Councilwoman Deborah Reiter, who serves as council's representative to the park and recreation board, said hopes were that the money could be taken from inheritance taxes, which have been used in the past for recreation projects.
She said two restrooms being considered for the park are estimated at between $60,000 and $70,000. A grant through the Ohio Nature Works program contributed $19,000 toward that total cost, but the park board hopes to defray some of those costs with the additional $30,000 from council, Mrs. Reiter said. The total cost was considered exorbitant by the park board, she said, leading members to consider one of them at this time.
Resident Gary Evans said he believes two restrooms are needed at the park to avoid a "mass of confusion and trouble."
Mr. Lelko said the city has a limited supply of money, and priorities should be set for various projects, including the restrooms. He said council could discuss those priorities at an upcoming joint meeting with the Chardon Board of Education.
Mr. Smock said, if the park board wants to move forward with plans for the restroom, it has $388,000 available in a fund that is reserved for park capital-improvement projects. He said the city provided $300,000 to the fund several years ago and increased the pot by $50,000 last year.
Councilman Jefferey Campbell Jr. said the city operates on an $18 million budget and should have no trouble finding $30,000 for the park board's use.
Councilwoman Leslie Bednar agreed, saying the city should be consistent in how it funds the park board. She said Chardon's recreational opportunities are a "strong asset" and as the city grows. She said she did not see any reason to hesitate on providing the $30,000.
Mr. Smock said the city has four union contracts that have yet to be settled, and it needs a new street department garage and salt shed, following a fire at the service garage last February.
With the $388,000 available to the park board, he said, there's no need for council to contribute another $30,000, which could be used for a new police car. "I don't think this is the time to be doing it," he said.
Mrs. Bednar said she doesn't want to be labeled as fiscally irresponsible and asked that the "pause button" be pushed on the matter.
He's not opposed to recreational programs, but he gets the impression that the park board "thinks they have a right to this money," Mr. Smock said. "We constantly hear that we're not providing them with enough funds."
Mrs. Reiter said that's not the case with the park board. She said it used volunteer help to build a pavilion at Mel Harder Park and always looks for ways to save money. She said the board views added recreational facilities as a way to give back to the community.
Mrs. Bednar said it's understandable that the park board would think first about what projects it wants to do. "That's their focus," she said.
But Mr. Smock said the city has to prioritize what projects it needs to do, including the plowing of streets and paying for police protection. "Personally, I don't think park and recreation facilities rank up there with paying police or plowing snow," he said.
Mrs. Reiter said Mr. Smock "insulted" the park and recreation board with his attitude and comments. Park board members did not mean to insult Mr. Smock by saying he was tight with the city's money, she said. "I didn't mean to open this can of worms."
Councilman Philip King said it did not appear to be an insult by Mr. Smock and asked that city administrators try to find $30,000 for the parks when they prepare next year's budget.
Mr. Lelko said he is as "pro-rec as anybody" and believes that the park board is doing what it's supposed to do. However, he said, it seems that the board took umbrage over how the city allocated its money.
Reading from a report by the park board, Mr. Lelko said an introduction noted that the park board prepared a list of projects to be done but found that list reduced by the time it reached council for consideration.
He said it's true that the list of projects is reduced by the time it reaches council, but administrators are responsible for putting together a budget for the entire city. Like the park board's requests, those from virtually every department are pared before reaching council, he said. The city never has enough money to do everything it wants to do, he said.
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