Rethink fees charged by tax-funded park district

Already in the spotlight for controversial decisions park leaders have made, Mill Creek MetroParks District has not backed down from making more questionable decisions.

Organizations that use Mill Creek MetroParks for foot-race routes now are being hit with significant fee increases by the park district — even though many of the foot races benefit charitable organizations.

And let’s not forget the massive park district already is funded by every Mahoning County property owner.

Vindicator reporter Dan Pompili dug into the story and found that five races, including two of the area’s largest — Panerathon and the Youngstown Peace Race — that operated under the newly adopted fee schedule earlier this year already have paid a combined total of $9,137.

Frankly, we see that as little more than a money grab from organizations that hope to use the park’s beauty to attract runners and to raise funds to benefit important, charitable causes like breast cancer research.

That is not only wrong, it’s despicable.

Here’s the breakdown of Mill Creek MetroParks new fees:

• A dedicated race fee of $1,500 per day;

• A scaled participant fee that decreases based on how many people participate in the event. That participant fee schedule starts at $2.50 per participant from 0-100 participants, and decreases by $0.25 for each 100 additional participants, down to $1.25 for races with 500 participants or more;

• A $250 refundable deposit;

• Service fees include portable toilet rental for $150 per unit per day. One portable toilet is required for every 50 participants beyond the 100-participant level, if the race course does not include access;

• And $75 per day per food vendor.

A director at the park acknowledged that in the past these services generally were provided for free, but in November 2022, the fee schedule was added in time for the 2023 foot-race season.

We checked with other nearby metropolitan park districts for comparison, and this is what we found:

• Trumbull MetroParks does not charge for races or events that pass through park property.

• Columbiana County Park District also charges no fees for such events, but in many cases event organizers donate to Friends of the park, a nonprofit park support organization.

• Summit (County) MetroParks charges by the hour, and its fee schedule adds an hourly rate for assignment of park rangers and general staff if necessary for the event. For example, a four-hour event organized by a Summit County resident at $20 per hour, requiring the assignment of one staff member at $30 per hour and one ranger at $40 per hour would cost approximately $360, based on a total hourly rate of $90. That’s still considerably less than what Mill Creek is charging.

Frankly, we would have no problem with fees assessed for itemized services like portable toilet rentals or hourly rates for additional park police or park maintenance needed for patrols or cleanup. We see that as simply passing on specific, itemized added expenses.

And we doubt any taxpayer funding the park district would even be bothered if the park district chose to waive those types of additional fees for charitable events like Panerathon.

It’s the significant flat rates we have a problem with.

In our investigation, we learned that some private or nonprofit organizations like Covelli Enterprises and Mercy Health Foundation, which co-sponsor Panerathon, have taken on these added costs. Those organizations underwrote this year’s cost of $2008.75 to ensure 100% of community sponsorships and registration fees were donated directly to the breast cancer research and treatment cause at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown.

We salute Covelli Enterprises and Mercy Health Foundation for that very noteworthy commitment.

Conversely, we are disappointed with the Mill Creek MetroParks board decision to implement these high fees. As the 2023 foot-race season wraps up, we urge the board to rethink the fee schedules before the 2024 season kicks off in the spring.


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