Park Supervisor asks for renewal to continue park progress
By Amanda Tonoli
Todd Shaffer, three-year township park supervisor, reminds voters that the 0.8-mill, five-year park levy renewal is not a tax increase.
“I live here, too,” Shaffer said. “I am tired of being taxed, too.”
The levy that will appear on the March 15 primary ballot generates $290,000 annually, costing owners of $100,000 homes $14.25 each year.
Trustee Jim Davis said it’s important to note this isn’t like the levy on the ballot last year. This renewal request will keep the park going as is.
In November, township officials placed a renewal plus an addition on the ballot for the park.
The addition, Shaffer explained, was to bring in the entirety of the 0.8 mills the levy originally asked for. Because of inflation, the levy is currently only bringing in 0.46 mills of its 0.8-mill amount first passed in 1986.
“In 1986, when all this started, there was just a little over 100 acres [for the park],” Shaffer explained. “Since 1996, we have an additional 120 acres that we have to maintain as well as the new things – the splash pad, the dog park, a new ball field, and two new tennis courts [paid for by schools but the park maintains them].”
All the park services are free.
“Your tax dollars are already paying for them,” Shaffer said. “I can’t turn around and charge you again to use them.”
Shaffer’s history with the park started in 1997, and his lifelong residency in Austintown gives him an inside view of it as he watched it grow from his time as a laborer.
“When the levy originated we were one of the top five growing townships in the state. We had six full-time workers and one part-time,” he said, adding the park department now has three full-timers and one part-timer. “Everyone is all about doing more with less, I’m about out of the less. ... If this levy doesn’t pass, we are in big trouble.”
The levy made up more than 50 percent of the park department’s budget in 2015, which was $490,000. If it didn’t pass, the park may have to operate on half of that cost.
“There are so many programs at the park – free concerts during summer time, a Disney show during summer, soccer games, baseball games, whatever it is. It all does come at a cost,” Davis said.
Shaffer said that although money is available to the park from the Westchester Fund – extra income from the Westchester Building donated by the Terlecky family in 1996 – he has only used funds from it twice.
“I can’t just take that money anytime I want,” Shaffer said. “I have to go to Mike Dockry [township administrator] and tell him how much I want and what I need it for. Then it goes to the [trustee] board and the board has to approve it.”
The splash pad and two 50-yard football fields are the two newest additions resulting from that fund, totaling about $65,000.
Shaffer said growing the park’s benefits is one of his goals. He wants to make it as well known as other big parks in the area.