Mayor: Lack of parks funding from Clark County ‘a scandal’

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland has called on Clark County to provide more funding for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, which he says sees a majority of its participants from outside the city.

“If you look at the numbers, it’s just a scandal that the county puts so little money into this operation,” Copeland said.

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County leaders, however, say they don’t believe they need to provide extra money to the recreation district because its partially funded through a countywide levy, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.

“I don’t feel any pressure to do that since the levy passed,” Lohnes said. “There are more people in the county than in the city and those people are paying into that levy. The county supported the levy.”

The city will give National Trail about $700,000 in operating money next year, according to its 2018 proposed budget. It will also receive about $175,000 in capital money from the city’s permanent improvement fund.

In 2003, the county gave about $330,000, but that number was reduced nearly every year to about $30,000 in 2013. Last year, the county upped its contribution to about $140,000.

“It’s wrong but we don’t control them,” Copeland said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

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Recreation district data shows it provides more service to people who live outside the city, Copeland said.

“It’s crazy that the city is putting up as much of the budget as it puts up,” he said.

The county put in significantly more money in the past, Copeland said, but has backed off recently. The county should at least match the amount of money put up by the city, he said.

“(The county) really welshed on a deal that I was a part of making with the county,” Copeland said. “It irritates me to no end. There’s absolutely no reason why the taxpayers of Springfield should be providing all that free service to those that don’t live in the city.”

In 2000, the city, county and Clark County Park District programs merged to create National Trail and kick off a 13-year, $17 million capital campaign. That included the $6 million Splash Zone Family Aquatic Center, the $2.6 million Carleton Davidson Baseball Stadium and the $8.5 million NTPRD Chiller ice arena. Other improvements included the Veteran’s Park amphitheater, skate park on Mitchell Boulevard and upgrades at several smaller parks countywide.

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The projects were paid for through a combination of private donations and public money, including a one-year, half-percent sales tax approved by county commissioners in 2001 that generated about $5.5 million. Private donors funded about $7.6 million of the project, while $3.2 million came from the city and another $700,000 from state agencies.

National Trail receives about $950,000 annually from a 10-year parks levy that was renewed in 2015 and is designated for parks and green spaces. That money cannot be used to pay for revenue-generating operations, like Splash Zone or the NTPRD Chiller ice rink.

The county is expected to meet with National Trail Director Leann Castillo for a budget meeting this week, she said. All county departments and other agencies are expected to cut 3 percent out of their budgets this year due to a projected reduction in sales tax next year.

The federal government recently ended the state’s collection of sale taxes on services from Medicaid managed-care organizations such as Dayton-based CareSource. The changes will ultimately cause Clark County to lose $3 million in sales taxes annually beginning next year, which will lead to less money for county departments and agencies in the future, including National Trail.

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At some point, the district may have to examine increasing fees for people who live outside the city, Copeland said.

“This is not a significant amount of money in terms of (the county’s) budget,” he said. “They’ve just gotten used to not paying what they should.”

The recreation district’s funding levels from the city have decreased by 66 percent in the past 10 years, Castillo said. The district received about $2.7 million from the city 10 years ago; now it receives about $700,000 annually, she said.

The district spends about $82 per acre of park land, according to a performance audit of the district prepared by the National Recreation and Parks Association. That’s significantly less than the national median of $2,730 per acre of park land spent by similar districts, the performance audit said.

“We’ve been doing a lot more with a lot less,” Castillo said.

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NTPRD has about a $61 million economic impact on the local community, Castillo said.

“We truly want to offer something for everyone in Clark County,” Castillo said.

National Trail maintains more than 1,300 acres of parks, 30 miles of roads and trails, 15 miles of river, 16 acres of ponds and lagoons, 20 acres of wetlands, the water park and the baseball stadium.

National Trail has an annual budget of about $3 million with 17 full-time employees and about 75 seasonal employees. The organization saw more than 150,000 program attendees and more than 1.5 million visitors to the parks in 2016.

The district closed historic Snyder Park Golf Course in early 2014. Earlier this year, the city leased Reid Park Golf Course to an outside vendor, saving NTPRD between $200,000 and $250,000 annually, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.


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Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about the National Trail Parks and Recreation District and its financial concerns over the past 10 years, including recent stories on the finances at Splash Zone Family Aquatic Center and outsourcing of golf.

By the numbers

$950,000: Amount of money generated annually by countywide parks levy.

$700,000: Amount of money expected to be given to NTPRD by the city of Springfield in operating money in 2018.

$150,000: Amount of money given to NTPRD by the county commission in 2016.

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