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Cleveland Metroparks seeks property tax increase for East Side green space, zoo expansion

A woman takes a man's picture in front of a large stone castle at Squire's Castle, one of Cleveland's several Metroparks
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
According to Metroparks CFO Wade Steen, the proposed levy would raise an addition $12 million to $14 million in revenue for the parks. Squire's Castle sits in the Metroparks' North Chagrin Reservation.

The Cleveland Metroparks is asking voters for a tax increase this November to fund an expansion at the zoo and investments in green space on the city’s East Side.

The 10-year levy will appear as Issue 5 on Cuyahoga County ballots and Issue 10 in Hinckley Township. Unlike renewals, levy replacements consider the increase in a home’s value since the last new levy passed.

The 2.7-mill replacement levy would increase property taxes by about $27 for every $100,000 of home valuation. If voters pass the levy, homeowners’ contribution to the Metroparks will increase from $67.38 to $94.50 per $100,000 of valuation, according to parks CFO Wade Steen.

The levy would raise an additional $12 million to $14 million in revenue for the parks, Steen said.

Levy backers and Metroparks staff were joined by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb for a campaign kickoff Wednesday night at the Foundry in the Flats.

Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman said the levy would help position the 105-year-old parks district for the future.

“We’re really looking forward towards that next century of stewardship,” he said. “And what the money will be used for going forward is continuing to enhance opportunities on the East Side, connecting not only our riverfront but our waterfront, including Lake Erie.”

The parks system is working with the city of Cleveland and Port of Cleveland to plan out new green space on the Lake Erie shoreline east of Downtown.

Another East Side focus for the Metroparks is East Cleveland’s portion of Forest Hills Park, which also reaches into Cleveland Heights. The Metroparks, East Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have discussed assembling money to improve the park, Zimmerman said.

East Cleveland officials told Ideastream Public Media recently that they’ve reached a verbal agreement to turn over park management to the Metroparks. A Metroparks spokeswoman said the agency had no announcement to make yet, and Zimmerman stopped short of saying the Metroparks would manage Forest Hills.

“We’re all working together, to be quite honest,” Zimmerman said. “And I think the ecosystem in Cleveland is really one of those that they’re ready now. One had talked over 100 years ago about Forest Hills Park becoming part of a regional system. Now a hundred years later, we’re working on making it happen.”

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo also plans to expand its RainForest building, another possible use for levy dollars, Zimmerman said. Levy proceeds would also help the parks system keep up with inflation, according to Steen.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the Metroparks underwent a round of furloughs and layoffs. The parks system hired about 1,000 fewer seasonal workers at the time, Zimmerman said.

“We really had to contract to make ourselves get through,” he said. “Now we’re looking forward to try to reestablish some of the programs and the opportunities and the maintenance and care that Clevelanders have known to love and appreciate of Cleveland Metroparks.”

Voters last passed a Metroparks levy in 2013 with almost 70% in favor.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.