Five Rivers MetroParks seek tax levy for $58M in maintenance, plus new projects

The MetroParks board took the first of two steps Friday that would be required to put a 1-mill tax levy on the November ballot

Five Rivers MetroParks for the first time in its 61-year history is planning to seek a second tax levy that’s meant to address a backlog of deferred maintenance projects and to invest in the park system.

If voters approve a proposed 1-mill levy this fall, Five Rivers MetroParks says it should be able to retire a $58 million backlog of maintenance needs by 2037, and within several years from now the organization should have some funding to start putting toward new amenities the community wants.

“With this levy, MetroParks will be able to continue to serve the county in the way we have,” said Carrie Scarff, MetroParks’ chief of planning and projects. “It’s important to this community that they have these quality parks to visit.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The Five Rivers MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners on Friday passed a resolution asking the Montgomery County Auditor’s office to certify the total tax valuation of the county and the amount of revenue a 1-mill levy would generate.

This is the first of two steps needed to put a 1-mill levy on the November ballot. The board next would have to approve a measure to ask the Board of Elections put the levy on the ballot, which could happen in July.

The proposed 1-mill levy is expected to generate about $14.2 million in revenue each year. The proposed tax measure would cost the standard owner of a $100,000 home in Montgomery County $35 per year. The levy would last for 10 years.

MetroParks already is funded by an existing 2-mill tax levy, which was most recently approved by county voters in 2018. That levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $45.75 per year, based on current effective millage rates.

Property values have risen since the levy was approved by county voters in 2018, so the effective rate has decreased. More than two-thirds of voters (a 67-33 ratio) approved the existing 10-year levy in 2018.

Park usage, needs, finances

More than 300,000 of Montgomery County’s roughly 535,000 residents use the MetroParks every year, Scarff said. MetroParks’ parks and facilities welcome more than 2 million total visitors each year.

Without additional revenue, high-priority amenities like trails, play areas, picnic areas, restrooms, programming, festivals, concerts and events could see cutbacks, cancellations, eliminations and closures, Scarff said.

About 87% of MetroParks’ general fund revenue comes from its current tax levy. The organization says it has taken a variety of steps to expand and create alternative revenue streams, including by starting a new foundation and aggressively going after grants.

Five Rivers MetroParks CEO Karen Hesser said seeking a new levy is a fiscally responsible move to ensure the protection of the park system and to ensure the organization serves the public in the ways people want.

Scarff said, “For us to stay relevant and current, we need to evolve.”

MetroParks says its maintenance needs include fixing up, replacing and reopening restrooms, playground equipment, picnic shelters and other facilities and attractions, like a boardwalk at the Woodman Fen natural area in southeast Dayton.

New revenue will help MetroParks repair and replace amenities like the water-play area, the playground and band shell at Island MetroPark, officials say.

MetroParks wants to replace a 25-year-old playground at Eastwood MetroPark that was removed for safety reasons, plus multiple structures at Wesleyan MetroPark, including the restroom facilities.

MetroParks wants to replace aging and damaged elements at RiverScape MetroPark that tell Dayton’s history. This includes plaques in the ground and the invention stations, which are oversized sculptures and interactive artwork showing local inventions, like the cash register, pop-top cans and ice cube trays.

RiverScape’s irrigation, utility and sound and lighting systems also need to be replaced, park officials said.

The organization says it is developing a plan for new investments if the proposed levy is approved.

MetroParks does not have any parks in the west central part of the county, but it has more than 500 acres of land in that area and would like to build one. The area is southwest of Trotwood.

MetroParks officials say new levy revenue is not expected to be used to help pay for proposed ambitious investments like a futuristic, $34 million pedestrian bridge and park over the Great Miami River. That project is part of the riverfront master plan, which is a 25- to 30-year vision for transforming the banks of local river corridors.

Karen Davis, president of the Board of Park Commissioners, said Five Rivers MetroParks is important to the community’s quality of life, and that the parks also spark community and economic development.

“Even with belt-tightening moves — such as holding staff positions open, rethinking programs and finding more cost-effective maintenance solutions — we need this levy to protect the parks for all of Montgomery County.” she said.

MetroParks manages 35 locations, including 18 MetroParks, the 2nd Street Market, eight conservation areas and eight sections of the region’s paved trail network.

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