ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The St. Clairsville/Richland Memorial Park is facing closure due to lack of finances and the issue will be put before the voters once again during the upcoming election.
Randy Bernard, park board member, visited city council earlier this week to announce that a 2.5-mill operating levy would again be placed on the ballot. The levy was voted down during the prior election, but Bernard said financial cuts from the state have made it necessary to try again.
"We've had probably a 75 percent drop in the funding from the state and other sources," he said.
Bernard thanked the city mayor and service people for past in-kind services and financial support in matters such as placing a new pipe in the culvert. City workers also recently helped to excavate and remove a tank in preparation for renovation to the pool building and filter house.
He added that some of the largest expenditures for the park are water and electric services and asked council to consider rendering some assistance in these areas.
However, he noted the city and township are facing financial hardships as well and the park does not fall under their responsibility.
"The park is not the city's park, and it's not the township's park, it's its own entity," Bernard said.
He said the board would open the park again this year.
"We're looking at an operating loss unless the levy passes. I think we'll do whatever it takes to open up the park and the pool this year for operations. If the levy doesn't pass then obviously that's a whole different matter."
He said while the park usually has more surplus in the budget before the season begins. Also the pool has usually operating close to budget or at a loss due to operating expenses.
"We're going to have to work hard and do whatever we can to economize and try to get income from any sources that we can," he said. Methods include offering passes early and at a discount and asking for donations.
"We're going to do whatever we can to open the pool this year," he said, adding that even if the levy is passed, funds will not be received until next year.
Bernard added that $1.1 million worth of improvements have been made on the park as a result of the capital improvement levy.
"Unfortunately the paradox is as we increase or improve the park, so to do the operating expenses," he said, noting that insurance and workers comp have increased, but revenues for the park have decreases.
Answering questions from the city council, the park board has made some contact with oil and gas companies regarding the possibility of leasing, but so far there has been no continued interest.
He added that the board will place a high priority on reaching out to the community to promote the levy. He noted that the levy would cost a home of about $125,000 approximately $10 per year.
Bernard acknowledged that many voters in precincts near the park came out against the levy its first time on the ballot. He said that parks and recreation proves a benefit to the community.
"When our parks and recreation go downhill and our education, so do our property values. I think we're all in it together," he said. "We're going to try and get that message out before the May election."
He pointed out that since very few pools operate in the Ohio Valley, the park regularly receives visitors from surrounding municipalities and townships.
He added that the board hopes for a more favorable response from the voters this time.
"It was a general election. It was a large vote and I think a lot of it was a protest vote against a number of things. Unfortunately the park got caught up in that."
He said the board members welcomed the chance to discuss the park and its benefits to the community with members of the public. He added that he and other board members work on a voluntary basis. Youths and sports teams may canvass the area in support of the levy.
"This is one area where we can ill afford to not have it be a priority in our community," he said.
To ask questions, volunteer or donate, call the park manager at (740) 310-6718 or Perry & Associates at (740) 695-1569. The park board will meet March 4, 4:30 p.m.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org