Wednesday, October 16, 2002

W. Chester looking for match funds

Park improvements have a price

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - The budget belt was tightened this week as officials scrambled to scrape up $445,000 to match park improvement grants recently awarded to the township.

As policy, the township generally overestimates expenditures and underestimates revenues, Administrator Dave Gully told trustees at a work session Monday, so there may be enough money in next year's general fund for the grant matches.

Meanwhile, the township is going to look into whether it could impose a tax on tickets sold at a movie theater under construction on the southeast corner of Union Centre Boulevard and Interstate 75. The township also might designate its hotel tax - which is estimated to generate about $300,000 next year - for park improvements.

If those options don't present enough money to pay for all the park grant matches, township leaders agreed Monday to cut back next year on supplies and equipment in several departments and forgo the community newsletter, which costs West Chester about $100,000 a year.

"The township is setting priorities to ensure the revenue will provide the most important services," Trustee Catherine Stoker said. "Where we will cut back, if necessary, will not affect employment or basic services to the township."

A big portion of the money West Chester will pay next year to match grants will go to a Clean Ohio Conservation Grant that will preserve 400 to 500 acres of a large flood plain, which stretches 5.5 miles along the Mill Creek and Miami-Erie Canal.

The area, called the Port Union-Gilmore Ponds Conservation Corridor, would serve as an ecological milestone in the stream's restoration, park officials say.

It also allows for historical preservation, education, hiking, bird watching and nature walks in the area, and would restore the creek, manage flood plains and prevent flooding to the east in the Union Centre Boulevard area.

The total estimate for the project is $1.1 million; West Chester's match for the first phase is $150,000 and $250,000 for the second phase, park records show.

Overall, the conservation corridor would stretch from Port Union-Rialto Road in West Chester Township to Gilmore Ponds, a wetland near the Butler County Regional Airport in Hamilton. It would serve as another link in West Chester's "emerald bracelet" of parks.

The township eventually plans to link all its parks and the future community recreation center with a bike path that would hook to one slated to run from the Little Miami River to the Great Miami.

The rest of the money for park grants next year will go to match a Clean Ohio Trails Fund from Ohio 747 to the West Chester line near the conservation corridor and to improve soccer fields at the Voice of America Park.

"I have had people call that are pretty irate and want to start a revolution because we haven't done anything with the soccer fields," Parks and Recreation Director Bill Zerkle told trustees.


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