By Jordyn Grzelewski
Mill Creek MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young presented to the park board a detailed plan for $16.3 million in capital improvements over the next five years.
That plan fits into a broader strategy, divvied up into three five-year plans, to address infrastructure needs between 2017 and 2031.
“We took great lengths to do this with the balance that’s required. We have a lot of assets that require a lot of attention,” Young said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Routine improvements are planned for roads, parking lots, trails, signage and pavilions. Also, the 2017 schedule includes improvements to the bikeway trailhead, Wick Recreation Area, Lanterman’s Mill, Volney Rogers Field, Yellow Creek Park, the golf course, Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, Mill Creek Preserve, Vickers Nature Preserve, Sebring Woods, Fellows Riverside Gardens and a site near Lake Newport.
That schedule also includes design work for some projects to be done in 2018.
In all, the MetroParks are slated to invest $2.5 million in capital projects in 2017, with $1,932,021 projected to come out of the park budget and the remaining $572,079 expected to come from third-party funds.
That marks an increase from what the MetroParks spent on capital improvements over the last several years. The park invested $1,206,248 in capital projects in 2015; $845,427 in 2014; $1,082,600 in 2013; $1,664,088 in 2012; $686,317 in 2011; and $997,431 in 2010, according to figures provided by the MetroParks.
Over five years, the MetroParks are slated to spend $16.3 million on capital projects, roughly $9.7 million of which will come out of the park budget.
That spending is in line with the 15-year, $29 million in capital improvements for which Young has identified a need. About $16 million of that will come from the levy renewal with added millage for capital improvements approved by voters last November.
Also in the name of capital improvements, Young in February implemented a staff restructuring that is slated to save the park system more than $13 million over a 15-year span, taking into account savings on salaries and benefits from numerous eliminated positions.
Young noted the $29 million projection likely will grow.
“We have $29 million identified. We anticipate other needs,” he said.
Young, who took over leadership of the MetroParks at the start of 2015, began master planning early in his tenure. This extensive planning is something he’s introduced to a board leadership that previously focused on shorter-term planning.
The 15-year plan expands that process to allow better preparation for the future, he said.
“It’s important to note that we are meeting our commitment of being an organized, efficient, proactive organization,” he said. “We are going to plan for the improvements. We are going to be aggressive in our approach because the taxpayers deserve it.”
Longtime board member John Ragan took note of Young’s planning efforts, stating: “I can’t ever remember having a budget, or planning, that goes out 15 years, as extensive as he does now.”
Young’s full presentation will be posted at www.millcreekmetroparks.org.
In other business, the board approved raises for the park system’s full-time, nonunion employees. The salary adjustments grant a retroactive 1 percent raise this year, a 1.5 percent raise next year and a 2 percent raise in 2018, mirroring the raises granted in recently approved contracts with the union workers.
These are the first raises since 2009, Young said.
Additionally, park leaders discussed new citizen advisory committees that will form in 2017, per a proposal from board member Tom Shipka.
At the board’s request, Young prepared recommendations on the committees.
Among his suggestions is that the nine-committee proposal be reduced to five to avoid what he believes is some redundancy, and that the committees serve in an advisory capacity to him rather than the board.
If the committees report to the board, they would legally be extensions of the board and therefore subject to the so-called Ohio Sunshine Laws that govern public boards.
Young stressed he is in favor of the committees operating openly and included in his recommendation that the committees publish meeting notices and keep their meetings open to the public.
“What I’m concerned about is the level of due diligence that’s needed for those boards” to meet state law, he said. “I just think there’s a better mechanism for those voices to be heard.”
Shipka, however, said he saw “fundamental problems” with Young’s recommendations.
If they were approved, “I would predict another public fallout that would take us back many, many steps – steps I thought we had taken successfully,” he said.