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Portage County Issue 31 to provide additional funding to Portage Park District if passed

Views of a 550-acre property in Shalersville Township in the fall, with fields in the fore ground and a lake and forest in the background.
Mark Urycki
Portage Park District
The Portage Park District's purchase of a 550-acre property in Shalersville Township is contingent on funding. If the levy passes, the park district is prepared to finalize the purchase of the property for land conservation and public use.

Portage County voters are being asked to consider a new funding levy for the Portage Park District that would secure additional funding for maintenance, expansion and conservation.

If passed, Issue 31 would allow the park district to protect the county’s natural resources from further development, Executive Director Christine Craycroft said.

“Portage County is in a real sweet spot in the country for lots of water, moderate climate, great transportation system,” she said. “As the region starts to grow and continues to grow and pick up, we want to make sure that we can balance that development with conservation.”

The issue would replace the Portage Park District’s current levy with one that would increase funding for the district to $4.54 million per year.

If the levy passes, the park district plans to use funds for small projects, like trail repairs, along with developments and expansions of Kent Bog State Nature Preserve in Brimfield, Headwaters Trail and a 550-acre property in Shalersville Township, Craycroft said.

“We've got... a full plate of projects to pursue in the next ten years for sure,” she said. “Plus, … our main our main mission is conservation.”

Sally Kandel is the chair of Citizens for Portage Parks, an advocacy group leading campaign efforts for the park district. The half-mill increase in Issue 31 would make the county’s parks comparable to those of other Northeast Ohio park systems, Kandel said.

“Park districts are part of a livable community," she said. "They're also a buffer for development. It provides green spaces. It makes it makes communities beautiful. And I don't think that $2.92 is an overreach on our part.”

Three cyclists riding along Headwaters Trail.
Allan Orashan
Portage Park District
Cyclists ride along Headwaters Trail, one of Portage Park District's hike and bike paths. The park district plans to expand the trail to connect to Aurora if Issue 31 passes.

Under the current levy, property owners pay about $1.50 per month per $100,000 of assessed value. That would nearly double if the levy passed to a monthly payment of about $2.92.

The park district’s original levy passed in 2014 and expires at the end of the year. The 2014 levy was the district’s first passed levy after five previous attempts failed to get voter support.

“We were so small, we had a limited budget and thus our marketing budget was, was almost nonexistent for a long time and we just didn't have the ability to, to communicate with people,” Craycroft said. “Once we got the levy passed, we were able to really show people what was possible.”

The 2014 levy was essential for the park district’s growth and expansion, Craycroft said, allowing the system to expand its staff, improve existing parks and open four new locations.

“Since the levy was passed, we've gotten over... $7.3 million in grants and donations and then another over $1 million in land donation value,” she said. “That's allowed us to open up those additional park sites and resurface our hike and bike trails, and we've been able to get out and really show the folks what we can do with their with their funds and kind of prove ourselves.”

If the levy were to fail, Portage Park District would be stuck on “maintenance mode,” Craycroft said.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.