Issue would levy $1.7M for Portage green space

Megan Rozsa

Current funding pales in comparison to neighbor counties

This November, Portage County residents can expect to see a levy from the Portage Parks District on the ballot. This .5 mill property tax levy will be the first ever for the parks.

The Portage Park District is only allotted $175,000 per year to operate its 10 parks.

Within these 10 parks, there are 325 acres of public parkland, more than 13 miles of hike and bike trails and 380 acres of preserved land not open to the public. Compare that budget to Summit County’s $12 million and Geauga County’s $7 million.

Dick Abbott, chairman of Citizens for the Portage Park District, proposed this levy because he noticed that Portage County did not have a first-class park system. After presenting this issue to Citizens for Portage Park District, the organization recognized the parks could not upgrade the park system without adequate state funding.

“If this levy passes, it will cost a house assessed at $100,000 about $1.50 a month or $16 per year,” Abbott said. “That would yield about $1.7 million, which is 10 times more than what we have now.”

Eddie Dengg, Western Reserve Land Conservancy field manager and campaign manager, said the success of this levy would allow millions of dollars from state and federal matching capital grants to come back to Portage County.

The parks system runs into funding problems because capital grants require a local match, and Portage Parks, with its constrained budget, does not have that local match.

Abbott said the current budget doesn’t provide enough funding to hire more park employees, maintenance workers or part-time workers. There is currently one full-time employee. This has caused the Portage Parks to keep five of its parks closed.

“We don’t have park rangers or people to pick up trash,” he said. “People want to donate land, but we have to turn it down because we can’t take care of what we have.”

The passing of this levy would result in a more environmentally friendly community for Portage residents, said Dengg and Abbott.

“Seventy-five percent of rainwater is intercepted by trees, and by preserving those natural areas, it will reduce floods in the future,” Abbott said. “The trees also work as a filter to purify ground water in the watersheds.”

As of October, the levy has been met with very little opposition. Some residents were concerned about the prospect of having a bike trail in their backyard, like Dick Tenney of Hudson Road, who is on one end of the Hike and Bike Trail.

Abbott said Tenney was angry about having a trail run through the back of his property, but when he saw how much it was being used, he had a change of heart.

“He saw the usage and decided to donate one acre of land and money for a parking lot,” Abbott said.

Other residents fear the Parks District will use eminent domain to take more land, but Abbott said the parks already have enough potential land that needs protection and the district doesn’t intend to force people into giving up their land.

“You know, $1.50 is less than a slice of pizza or 20-ounce pop,” Dengg said. “The Portage Parks District has brought in $5 million of donations. If we were able to have a reliable budget, we could accept more.”

Contact public affairs reporter Megan Rozsa at [email protected].