With growing population and green outlook, Anderson Twp. seeks continuation of parks money with levy

Millage would stay at level first approved in 1992
With growing population and green outlook, Anderson Twp. seeks continuation of parks money with levy
Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-08 06:00:17-04

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Forty years ago, Anderson Township had no parks of its own. A lot has changed since then.

In the intervening years, the township has opened eight parks to complement Hamilton County facilities in the township. In 1975, it established a parks department, and the township itself has defied Cincinnati’s trend of declining population by nearly doubling its own, from some 25,000 to about 45,000.

One of the things that draws people to this suburban community is the parks, says Ken Kushner, executive director of the Anderson Township Park District.

“That’s why people are coming to Anderson Township, because of the schools and the parks," Kushner said. "In a community like Anderson that’s put a lot of effort into its park systems, in my estimation you can’t have enough parks because that’s the character of your community. We’re just fortunate to be where we’re at with all the forward-thinking people these last 40 years.”

The community’s commitment to its green momentum will be tested Nov. 8, when a ballot initiative will ask residents to approve a 10-year property tax levy that would provide $1.9 million annually for operations and park maintenance. It will ask homeowners to pay $66.50 per $100,000 of their property’s assessed value.

Other sources of income are grants and fees from the rental of fields and other facilities.

Anderson owns approximately 342 park acres, while Hamilton County’s Great Parks system has about 1,500 in Anderson.

“Our parks are active parks,” Kushner said. “We have soccer fields, baseball diamonds, pickleball courts, lacrosse fields, football fields -- and trails. The number one thing people want are looping trails, nice safe areas to walk. And then there’s the bigger passive parks -- the parks that Hamilton County has, and nature areas.”

The ballot measure will ask for the same annual amount Anderson’s parks district has received since 1992, which will mean stretching dollars. The system has doubled its parks and added over 300 acres since that time.

Technically, the measure will replace the existing levy that will expire in 2018. Kushner said the parks board chose to put the item before voters this year because they wanted to take advantage of higher election year turnout, and -- if the measure were to fail -- the old levy would remain in place till 2018, giving the board two years to come up with a Plan B for funding.

If it seems the parks department is tying its hands by asking for the same amount it received 24 years ago -- and committing to that figure for 10 years -- it also comes at a time when the township has lost funding from the state, as have all townships. The dollar request becomes a question of balancing what’s needed with what residents can be expected to approve.

“We’ve been on the same mills since 1992,” Kushner said. “And we’ve been able to operate at that millage and it made sense to the (parks) board to stay at that millage.

Paul Drury, Anderson Township's director of planning and zoning, said the new master plan, which will be unveiled Oct. 11, will not call for additional parks, partly because the parks department operates separately from the township government.

But that does not mean capital projects are not needed, Kushner said.

“We have built quite a few amenities in the parks over the last 40 years. Believe it or not, restrooms are still needed in a lot of the parks. So we’ll be doing things like that, adding additional parking. … these community assets are highly used. We’ll work within our operating budget to figure out how to put in restrooms for example down in Riverside Park and destinations we know that are needed and/or Beech Acres or Juilfs (parks).”

Danelle Buelsing is a resident who considers the township parks an integral benefit for her family. Buelsing is a mother of two -- Emily is 12 and Anthony is 15. She and her husband settled in Anderson because of the schools and because her husband was raised here.

“We use Juilfs the most because it’s close to us,” she said. “When the kids were younger we used to go to the playgrounds a lot, and there are walking trails and I have used it for walking. Walking to the park and through was a new thing I did this summer.”

She says her children have attended summer camps at township parks, as well as drawing classes, Easter egg hunts, school picnics and a “home alone” class.

“We went there as a family a month or two ago because of Pokémon GO,” she said. “There are a lot of Poké stops (at Juilfs).”

Buelsing said she plans to vote in favor of the levy. “I would vote for it because I think it’s just important for a community” to have outdoor and recreation space.

“When the kids were younger we used to go to the grilled cheese Wednesdays at Beech Acres. That was a fun place to gather,” for an affordable dinner.  “They brought in performers, like a magician. It was just very kid-friendly.”