Salem voters can help with city parks expenses

SALEM — Officials representing the city parks are asking taxpayers for slightly more money to keep up with current expenses through a combination 1-mill renewal plus an additional .3 mills levy

“All we’re doing is bringing it back up to what a true 1-mill levy is,” city Parks Director Steve Faber said.

Once a levy is passed, the levy collects the same amount each year and only increases in the case of new construction.

No matter how many times a levy is renewed, it can only collect the same amount each year. In this case, Faber said this will be the third time a renewal is being requested for the 1 mill. The .3-mill portion was added to bump up the income.

If approved by voters, instead of generating $146,900 per year as a 1-mill renewal, the levy is expected to generate an estimated $209,500 as a 1-mill renewal with an additional .3 mills, giving the department a little more breathing room to maintain the more than 300 acres of property and facilities overseen by the Salem Parks & Recreation Department.

Bottom line, according to figures from the Columbiana County Auditor’s Office, the tax increase amounts to an additional $10.50 per year for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 — that’s equal to less than an additional $1 per month, actually about 87 cents per month.

“This levy is crucial because if it doesn’t pass in November, then we’ve got a hole in our budget,” Faber said.

The 1-mill levy actually expired last year, but tax collections are always a year behind so the money was still coming in this year. Passage ensures no lapse in income. The levy wasn’t sought last year due to some of the other issues on the ballot in the fall. Nothing was on the ballot in the spring, so it would have cost the parks department to hold a special election.

The parks department relies on two 1-mill levies plus income from the pool and pavilion rentals to operate. In 2016, the department spent $368,543 on operations. That figure doesn’t include the recreational operations at the Salem Lake or reservoir on Gamble Road since the lake is self-sustaining. That figure also doesn’t include the $43,731 spent for capital improvements last year that came from oil and gas lease money city council gave to the parks department or $4,307 spent on non-operating expenses using gifts or donations.

Operations includes salaries and benefits, utilities and supplies, such as gas for the mowers and trucks. The staff includes four full-time employees (that includes Faber, Recreation Supervisor Shane Franks, and two maintenance workers, Dave Adams and Paul Cowan), and a number of seasonal workers for maintenance and the pool. The staff is actually down one full-time position at the moment. The seasonal workers included five laborers (two full-time/part-time and three part-time) and 12 part-time pool workers.

“Teamwork makes us successful, to get the job done, to serve the citizens we’re here to serve,” Faber said.

Parks in the system include Centennial, Waterworth Memorial, Kelley, Mullins, Eagleton Glen at Teegarden and the Salem Reservoir. Maintenance workers mow the grass there. Amenities include 10 pavilions, eight ball fields, the pool, the splash pad opening next year, the Swings-N-Things playground and numerous other playgrounds, the band shell and four permanent restrooms, not counting portable restrooms.

Both Faber and Franks receive a portion of their salary from the Salem Worlds War Memorial Building, which is the parks department headquarters. Faber touted the partnership the parks department has built with the Salem Public Library for extensive programming through Go Wild in the Park at little to no cost. The concerts in the park also cost the department nothing, with donations raised by volunteers covering the cost of the musical groups. The parks department provides the venue.

“I will always do my best to get the greatest impact for taxpayer dollars. We’re here to serve the public,” Faber said.

He also said he prefers having levies limited to five years. That gives the parks department “a report card on how we’re doing as a team,” he said.