By MARY ANN GREIER
The question of whether to seek a replacement levy to increase funding for the city parks now rests with Salem City Council.
The Parks Committee of city council agreed 3-0 Thursday to have the legislation prepared for city council's consideration. The process of placing a question on the ballot takes two steps - action to have a 1-mill replacement levy certified by the Columbiana County Auditor's Office and then action to place the levy on the November ballot.
The Salem Parks Commission had already voted last week to take the steps necessary to seek a 1-mill replacement levy, citing rising costs for fuel, health insurance for employees and other supplies and maintenance costs to justify the need.
"We operate solely out of levies," Parks Director Steve Faber said.
The department depends on the funds generated from two 1-mill, five-year levies to pay for operations. He reported that the levy being requested to be put on as a replacement this time instead of a renewal generates $191,700 per year, while the other levy generates about $138,000 per year.
Both levies were passed as 1-mill levies, but due to state law, a levy can only collect the amount it was originally approved to collect, so as a levy gets older, the actual millage is reduced to keep the amount collected the same.
The levy up for consideration is currently collecting at a rate of .88710 mills while the other levy is collecting at a rate of .77189 mills, both reduced from the original 1 mill. If approved, a replacement would bring in more money based on collecting at today's values.
Faber admitted it will be an increase to taxes, but said "most people won't see any significant change."
He explained that if a homeowner has simply maintained their home and not done any renovations or major additions and their value has stayed the same or decreased, they won't see much of a change. If a homeowner has done some renovations, they can expect to see an increase in their cost.
Councilman Rick Drummond, chairman of the committee, asked if there's a chance the total collected could go down with a replacement, with Faber answering that's "possible but highly improbable." He also asked if the parks commission has looked at any budgeting or numbers related to the need. Faber said they usually make the numbers work based on what the revenue is. He said they normally have some carryover, but that's necessary to operate in the first three months of the year since the tax money doesn't arrive until March or April.
"What happens if it doesn't pass?" Councilman Jeff Cushman asked.
Faber said they'll have to rethink and possibly just seek to have the levy renewed. The levy expires at the end of this year, but collections are a year behind for taxes so they'll still be collecting the money in 2015. He estimated they have three opportunities to get the levy passed, either as a replacement or as a renewal.
Drummond also asked about income from rentals and fees and Faber said they're expecting about $15,300 this year. Drummond asked if there was anything else that could be done to generate additional revenue for the parks, but Faber said there was nothing significant without a capital investment or that could raise enough to make up for a levy. He said they would have to eliminate some things and possibly personnel.
Councilman Roy Paparodis questioned what had changed to make a replacement levy necessary. Faber cited the cost of fuel, health care and supplies. He said they continue to cut where they can and do the best they can with what they have.
"We've always tried to get the greatest impact with taxpayer dollars," he said.
Faber pointed out the parks department receives no general fund money from the city and hasn't receive any money from the capital improvements fund for six to eight years, which makes a difference when trying to maintain equipment and facilities. He said they would like to replace all the boats at the lake, but they don't have the money. He asked that city council keep the parks department in mind when looking at capital improvement spending. He said he wasn't trying to "spin a sad tale" but wanted them to remember that when talking about capital improvements.
"We know other things need to take a priority. We just don't want to be forgotten," he said.
Drummond asked if there was any park land that's not really being used or benefitting the city, but Faber said the land is being used a lot.
He said people have asked why they don't just seek a continuous levy. According to Faber, "We enjoy the report card."
The Salem Parks Commission oversees six parks consisting of more than 337 acres, including Centennial, Waterworth Memorial, Mullins off of South Lincoln Avenue, Kelley off of Prospect Street, the Salem Lake off of Gamble Road and an area near the Teegarden Covered Bridge off of Eagleton Road.