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Rethink Trumbull MetroParks levy spending plan

We are extremely troubled by preliminary spending plans offered by Trumbull County MetroParks leadership for funds that could come from a proposed new operating levy.

Voters countywide will see the 0.6-mill, 10-year operating levy on their November ballots. If it passes, it will raise about $2 million for Trumbull County MetroParks. Presently, the department operates on $95,000 per year.

The average cost of $22 per year per Trumbull County home would raise the park’s budget by more than 2,000 percent and would add significant amounts of money to the department’s payroll.

We do not believe this is the time — during a global pandemic when countless residents are experiencing job furloughs, limited work hours and pay cuts — to be asking voters for increased taxes that will be used to create new jobs and grant pay raises. Government should be looking for ways to save taxpayer money. This proposal is the opposite of that.

According to the preliminary plan recently spelled out by MetroParks Executive Director Zach Svette, much of the funds would go to salaries. Specifically, he proposes hiking the executive director position salary and benefits from $36,000 to $60,000 in the first six years, and increasing it to $70,000 in years seven through 10.

Overall, the proposal suggests spending $240,000 per year on benefits and salaries in the first five years, going up to $409,500 in years seven to 10.

Additionally, the plan calls for the creation of several new positions. They include a program coordinator at $35,000 per year; an administrative assistant to be paid $35,000 per year; a second administrative assistant added in year seven; a maintenance worker paid $30,000 per year; a second maintenance person added in year six, also at $30,000; and a third maintenance person in year seven at $30,000 per year.

Other proposed expenses include things like a $25,000 security contract with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s office.

Indeed, it’s been pointed out revenue generated through oil and gas wells has declined, and previous county inmate labor was discontinued this year. That leaves little money to pay contractors to mow.

The plan also calls for capital outlay to purchase mowers, trucks, trailers and other machinery. It calls for new projects and possible takeover of some local community parks and maintenance of the bike trail.

Expenses also would include things like addition of picnic areas, walking paths, improvements to the bike trail, restoration of an 1815 log cabin for park officers and barn in Braceville and more.

In the past, projects and park developments largely have been paid for with grants.

Certainly, we do not intend to diminish the value of local parks.

We understand the impact local parks have on quality of life. Further, we know parks can have a positive effect on economic growth. Businesses often consider things like outdoor recreation and other quality of life issues when planning relocation.

But we also know there must be limits to government spending.

We are glad the MetroParks executive director was upfront with his plans well before the election. Voters deserve to know how their tax dollars will be spent before they go to the polls.

The good news is this plan is preliminary, and spending ultimately will be decided not by the executive director, but by the park’s managing board.

We urge the board of directors to rethink the proposal and offer the public a new plan that redirects such significant spending away from salaries and personnel instead to other uses, park programs or capital expenditures.

They should inform the public of their new plan and they should do it quickly — prior to the start of early voting this fall.

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