For 122 years, Mill Creek MetroParks has shined as one of the Mahoning Valley’s most brilliant gems. With its natural beauty, recreational bounties and educational treasures, the park system ranks as one of our region’s most understated and underappreciated assets.
To the credit of the stewards of the park over the past 12 decades, painstaking care has been taken to preserve and enhance its myriad blessings on our community. To the credit of today’s park administration and board of trustees, that tradition of care and public service remains paramount.
The Mill Creek MetroParks’ Action Plan 2013-2023, adopted earlier this year by the park board, embraces that tradition and advances it into the next decade. The plan wisely focuses on preserving and improving the multitude of park attractions, interacting with the community to provide services tailor made to its wishes and managing the finances of the public park district like a mean and lean private enterprise.
SECOND LARGEST METRO PARK IN U.S.
Since converting to a metropolitan park district in 1989, Mill Creek has expanded to more than 4,400 acres of public lands and facilities in seven townships and three cities with its core remaining within the city of Youngstown, making it the second largest metropolitan park in the United States. It’s also become a countywide funded entity, which puts its operations under a much more powerful microscope as public tax dollars hang in the balance of the efficiency of its management activities and preservation efforts.
That’s one reason why Mahoning County residents should appreciate the emphasis the park board is placing on planning and putting public funding to responsible use. That’s been evident throughout the long process of producing the strategic plan.
The plan grew out of focus group meetings in 2011. Those were followed by public open houses, a mail survey and interviews with community leaders during the first half of 2012. A needs assessment was conducted and demographic studies were completed. All of the information then was compiled into priorities of taxpayers and ultimately into the 2013-2023 action plan.
In its entirety, the plan serves as a well-crafted and thoughtful blueprint for park operations and development. First, it is not grandiose. It focuses on maintaining the many natural and manmade assets already in place at the park and does not propose any lavish (read multi-million-dollar) additions at taxpayer expense. It has taken input from users and translated that into action plans, such as improvement of park trails, preservation of Ford Nature Center, Morley Pavilion, Wick Recreation Area and other longstanding park landmarks and creation of broader recreational and educational programs that should inspire more people to take advantage of the park’s assets.
It also rightly accents the need for fiscal integrity and responsibility. As stewards of tax dollars generated from throughout Mahoning County, it needs to operate as a well-oiled machine. Early signs indicate the park board has taken that lesson to heart. It’s a lesson that other public boards making policy for school districts and communities in the Mahoning Valley would do well to emulate.
Cuts in wages, salaries
Because of losses of property-tax revenue combined with a recent $95,000 cut in local-government funding from the state, the park board has cut employee wages and salaries by $258,000, has relied more heavily on lower-cost part-time workers and reduced its capital-improvement budget by $237,000 from 2012 levels.
The action plan also places a strong emphasis over the next 10 years on seeking private funding from foundations, corporations and fundraising efforts so as not to unduly burden Mahoning County taxpayers. We hope such efforts succeed so that the district can avoid serious talk of one bullet point in the strategic plan: seeking a second countywide tax levy for the park district solely for capital improvements.
Given the stellar international reputation of Mill Creek MetroParks, the task of securing private financial backing for it to realize the many projects embedded in the action plan should not prove burdensome.
We’re confident that the administration and board will continue to pursue the same responsible stewardship over the enrichment, preservation and promotion of Mill Creek MetroParks that their forebears have so successfully done over the past 12 decades. In so doing, the park’s operational tax levy likely will continue to win voter support and the parks will remain a crown jewel of our community for years and decades to come.
For your information: A copy of a summary of Mill Creek MetroPark’s action/strategic plan 2013-2023 is available at http://millcreekmetroparks.org/Portals/16/PDFs/ActionPlan2013-web.pdf.