There is only one countywide issue on the May 6 ballot, a modest request for the Portage Park District that would cost most homeowners only pennies a day. Its passage, however, would bring a big return in terms of the quality of life for every county resident.
Issue 10 is a .5-mill, 10-year operating and improvement levy that would provide the park district with $1.63 million annually. It would be the first significant operating budget in the history of the agency, which now operates on less than $100,000 per year.
A "Yes" vote would provide a secure source of funding for the park district, which oversees 1,300 acres of parkland and 14 miles of hike and bike trails that were utilized by about 400,000 patrons last year. It also would enable the district to provide access to some of the 835 acres of parkland it owns that are closed to the public because of a lack of funding.
The park district has always operated on a shoestring budget, and in recent years has been "making do" with even less money; state and local funding sources have been cut by more than half, forcing the agency to rely on private donations to cover basic operations. The district has one full-time park director and two part-time maintenance workers.
Despite its modest resources, the facilities overseen by the district are utilized by many Portage County residents and visitors who have been able to enjoy hike and bike trails, scenic areas and passive recreation sites at locations throughout the county. The number of visitors continues to increase as more become aware of what the district has to offer.
If Issue 10 is approved, plans call for maintaining existing parks and trails and focusing on extending those such as The Portage Hike and Bike Trail and Headwaters Trail that are already heavily used. Plans for a Suffield-Brimfield-Kent trail also are in the works.
Passage of the levy also would provide the park district with the resources for matching funding for grants, which could provide millions in additional funding for future development.
Portage County's allocation for its park system is a fraction of what neighboring counties provide through levies. Geauga County, whose population of 93,000 is considerably smaller than Portage, provides $9 million for parks. The Portage Park District has been a prudent steward of its limited resources, and we are confident it would remain so with a significantly larger budget.
Passage of Issue 10 would cost the owner of a $100,000 property about $17.50 per year. That's $1.50 per month - or a nickel per day. That's a small investment by any standard, but one that could make a big difference for Portage County.
We strongly recommend a "Yes" vote on the Portage Park District levy.