Low funds: It's no walk in the park
The park's 0.8 mill levy is set to expire at the end of next year.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Joyce Gottron's office in Stacey Pavilion at the township park was once a maintenance storage room, and it's barely big enough for two chairs.
If she has a visitor and she needs to make a copy, Gottron has to slide between the visitor's chair and a filing cabinet to get to the copy machine in the back. Township park is on Kirk Road.
But Gottron, who was promoted to township park supervisor Aug. 1, doesn't complain. She understands why the township can't afford to give her a bigger office.
"We know the whole township is under a fiscal crunch. The park department here has the same problem," she said. Township officials have expressed concern that the township could face a deficit next year.
To pay for park maintenance and construction projects, Gottron is asking residents, organizations and businesses for volunteer and financial help. She's also seeking state grants.
"We're looking to have repairs done, needed repairs, and we're looking for ways to fund those repairs, as well as new projects that have been requested over the years," Gottron said.
Earlier this year, Armstrong cable agreed to provide $2,000 to build a sand volleyball court and a horseshoe and boccie court area at the township park. The Austintown Junior Women's League also is sponsoring a $250 project by the Austintown Girl Scouts to install the park's name in landscape lettering near the park entrance.
Contractors also have recently installed a concrete base under the new park pavilion while also working to place new siding on the band shell. Those projects are being paid for with $13,000 from the county sales tax.
In addition, the Austintown Girl's Softball League is set to spend about $2,200 on new dirt for the township park softball diamonds in the next few weeks. The league has used the park for about 30 years.
"Anything we can do to better the park, it's been our home for so many years," said Nancy Card, league president.
Frank Sachire, a retired Austintown Fitch High School teacher who coached the Fitch boys' tennis team for 28 years, has volunteered to raise money to resurface the township park's tennis courts. He said if the courts are resurfaced, more people may come to the park to play tennis.
"It's something that can be a great attraction for the community," Sachire said.
Approve of promotion
Both Sachire and Card also stressed that they believe the township trustees made the right decision when they promoted Gottron to park supervisor.
"She's got a lot of great ideas, she's got a lot of energy, and she wants to really make the park a showplace in Mahoning County," Sachire said. Card added that Gottron is "doing a fabulous job. She's been very open to suggestions."
Gottron served as the park's program education coordinator for 13 years before being promoted by trustees to replace former township Parks and Roads Superintendent Michael Bertilacci, who retired. She also has worked as an assistant accounting clerk for the township.
Gottron noted that because he was responsible for two township departments, Bertilacci couldn't focus all of his energy on the parks.
The park department had a $443,035 budget last year. A total of $304,195 for the budget came from a five-year 0.8 mill park levy that township voters approved in 1990; an additional $88,000 came from the township general fund.
The rest came from grants and other fund-raising sources.
Voters approved first approved the parks levy in 1986. It has not been replaced since then.
As a result, the levy produces about the same amount of revenue for the parks department as it did when it first took effect. The levy is set to expire at the end of next year; trustees most likely will seek to renew or replace it during the year.
Not including Gottron, the parks department has four full-time employees who are responsible for maintaining the playgrounds, pavilions, recreation areas and landscaping in a total of seven park properties. Trustees approved the first union contract for those employees last week.
Salaries cost the parks department a total of $195,914 last year.
Since 1996, township trustees have bought 102 acres at a total cost of $499,700 and added it to the township park on Kirk Road. The first purchase of 56 acres in 1996 cost $234,700 and was paid for with township funds, the other two purchases of a total of 46 acres cost about $265,000.
State grants paid for $198,750 of the last two purchases.
When asked if the township should be buying land while facing a deficit, Gottron responded that purchasing the property made sense because the township had the grant money. She added that the township needs to protect some land from developers so it can provide residents with green space and recreation areas.