MetroParks board OKs 2017 budget with hefty spending increase
By Jordyn Grzelewski
The capital improvements the public were promised after agreeing to additional taxes are reflected in Mill Creek MetroParks’ 2017 budget, which the park board unanimously approved.
This year’s budget features a spending increase of nearly $3 million compared to last year. The board projects it will spend $12.4 million in general-fund appropriations this year, up from $9.4 million last year.
Of those general-fund appropriations, $2.6 million is allocated for capital improvements. An additional $581,074 for capital improvements will come from the park’s replacement reserve fund.
This is the first year the park district will receive revenue from the additional 0.25-mill for capital improvements voters approved in November 2015 along with renewal of a 1.75-mill operating levy.
The additional millage is slated to bring in slightly more than $1 million annually for the 15-year levy cycle, and the park has pledged to invest $29 million in capital improvements over that time period.
“You’re looking at, total, $3.2 million in projects and/or contracted design work in 2017,” Aaron Young, executive director, said Monday night. “So, our objective was, in order to meet the $29 million over 15 years [pledge], we needed to do about $1.93 [million per year]. You’ll see that we are much higher than that. We are aggressively pursuing our goals, and we look forward to a busy 2017.”
As for how the $3.2 million in capital improvements will be funded beyond the $1.1 million in additional property tax revenue the park will receive this year, Young said, “The rest of it’s coming from out internal operating efficiencies.”
Asked for specifics, he said those funds are available because of “the ability of the MetroParks to save money. To operate in an efficient manner.”
In February 2016, Young implemented an internal reorganization plan that eliminated numerous park positions, citing a need to close a capital-improvements budget shortfall.
While elimination of those positions was projected to save the park more than $880,000 annually, the park is projected to spend just $166,199 less on salaries and wages this year compared to 2016.
The park budgeted $6,344,117 for salaries and wages last year, compared to $6,177,917 this year.
All full-time park employees got raises in 2016, and the board also recently approved compensation adjustments that raised the salaries of 12 employees.
“I think you saw with the approval of the budget just the overall commitment of the staff. Re-evaluating what they do, how they do it,” Young said. “I’m thrilled with this budget, moving forward. It’s an aggressive budget, but it’s one that we’ve had buy-in from the staff, and we’re looking to demonstrate what we can do now that the public’s entrusted us with additional revenue.”
In other business, the board adopted a list of goals for Young to tackle in the next six months. They include submitting suggested topics for board work sessions, facilitating the start-up and function of those work sessions, and facilitating the start-up and continued function of new standing advisory committees.
The board also finalized its selections of candidates for those advisory committees. An orientation for committee members is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 21 at the MetroParks Farm.
Also, the board approved increasing boat rental fees for the kayaks and paddle boats available at lakes Glacier and Newport. The fee increases for Mahoning County residents will range from 50 cents to $2, depending on the type of rental. For noncounty residents, the increases will be between $1.50 and $5.