CINCINNATI — Great Parks of Hamilton County will take a 1.8-mill tax levy off the November ballot and push the issue to 2021, the board announced Wednesday.
"While people support and love their parks, a variety of reasons and motivations exist making it clear that now is not the right time. Given this information, the Board has decided to not place a levy on the ballot this November," wrote Great Parks CEO Todd Palmeter in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday night.
In the meantime, Palmeter said parks services will have to operate "at a minimum," including limiting access to certain areas of parks, closing of facilities and amenities and reducing program and educational opportunities.
In January, Great Parks began exploring a possible levy before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We only ask the voters of Hamilton County for additional funds when there is a real need, and now is one of those times,” Palmeter wrote.
Though Great Parks saw attendance shoot up in recent months -- with a 77% increase in trail usage alone -- the financial impact of the pandemic is expected to last well into next year.
To shore up “massive lost earned revenue,” which caused the body to cut their 2020 budget by roughly $4.7 million, plus address $60 million in “critical infrastructure” needs, the Great Parks board made the decision to place the tax levy on the ballot this past July.
Historically, voters have supported Great Parks levies, including a 10-year renewal by nearly 70% of the vote in 2016 to help maintain 21 parks and nature preserves in Hamilton County, as well as preserve an additional 17,000 acres of green space.
But Palmeter said the board received unexpected responses from several elected officials and "well-respected leaders in our community" that made them reconsider.
"It was important that we listened and kept an open mind to better understand the current needs and priorities of this community," Palmeter said, leading to the decision not to pursue a levy this November.
Great Parks intends to pursue a levy in 2021.