MetroParks panel warns of facility closings, cutbacks

The parks will maintain basic operations as long as possible, the board said.
WARREN -- The Trumbull County MetroParks Board is warning that its five facilities across the county will see drastic project and maintenance cuts this year and could shut down at some point.
That's because the MetroParks' budget allocation from the county's general fund this year is zero. Last year it was about $34,000. The parks board used the money for expenses such as insurance and maintenance.
For now the parks are open to the public from dawn to dusk.
Park commissioners William Flynn, David Ambrose and Jack O'Connell said they had expected a shortfall this year and had delayed planned projects from the 2004 budget to have money for this year's basic operations. Also, the parks should get $4,000 in gas well royalties this year.
"These funds will delay the full or partial closure of the parks until alternative funding can be identified," the board said in a statement. "If no funding can be identified, the parks will end up closing. Only base operational activities will be pursued in 2005," with a few exceptions.
The five facilities are Canoe City MetroPark in Leavittsburg; Clarence Darrow MetroPark and Disc Golf Course in Champion; Foster MetroPark in Newton Township; and the Western Reserve Greenway Trail in Champion, Bristol and Bloomfield townships. The board recently acquired but has not opened the Mosquito Creek Nature preserve, about 100 acres of wooded wetlands along the creek in Bazetta Township.
The board also plans to reduce restroom facility costs by about 25 percent and mowing expenses by about 40 percent. There is no paid staff; the MetroParks rely on volunteers.
Construction of a maintenance facility and shelter on the Greenway bike trail will still occur, because it was planned in 2004; sealing and striping of parking will be funded by the state through road tax dollars.
The MetroParks board can't take advantage of state grants and state funding, which often require local matching dollars.
The county's $32 million general fund budget for 2005 is $6 million short, officials said. It has been reduced by the loss of sales tax income, and some county departments are laying off staff and reducing hours.
County commissioners have imposed two additional quarter-percent sales taxes and hope to start collecting on them in July. Repeal and referendum efforts on the taxes, however, are under way.
The county already collects a half-percent sales tax; the two new taxes would make the county's total sales tax rate 1 percent. Voters trounced a measure for continuing an additional half-percent sales tax for county operations in 2003.
Each quarter-percent tax would generate about $400,000 per month, or about $4.8 million per year if collections remain steady. For this year, collections on both new taxes would generate $3 million, commissioners said.

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