Monday, May 12, 2003

West Chester ponders park options

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - This Butler County township likely will be the next community to ask voters for a tax increase to support park services.

Dozens of residents who attended a park meeting Thursday at Lakota West High School indicated they would support a levy to pay for parks and recreation improvements.

Next, a park board will appear before trustees in July to request a fall levy and conduct phone interviews over the next few weeks to continue gauging support.

Some neighbors are so eager for better and bigger parks, one even suggested Thursday incorporating the township into a city as a way to pay for improvements because cities can collect an earnings tax.

Three previous incorporation movements have failed in West Chester, the last in 1993.

"It's sure tough to do the things we want with the level of income we have," West Chester Township Trustee Dave Tacosik said.

"A 1- or 2-mill park levy would put us on the right track and will leverage more money. That's still not enough for the $88 million we need for everything we want to do but it would help."

While most everyone enjoys parks and green space, voters aren't always so eager to pay for them.

A 1-mill replacement levy for parks and recreation passed this week in Deerfield Township. But last year, Liberty Township voters overwhelmingly defeated a 0.75-mill park levy to buy and develop 54 acres of parkland.

But Tacosik said he believes West Chester residents would support a park levy because he says they crave good, quality recreation facilities for their families.

With several grant awards and private contributions, West Chester has been able to acquire property and move ahead on projects such as ball fields at Beckett Park, Iams Wiggly Field dog park and Daisaku Tree Grove at the Voice of America Park.

But last year, trustees appointed a 12-member park committee to discuss whether a tax increase should be placed on the ballot to help fund development of parks, a historic schoolhouse, the community center and a system of greenways and bike trails connecting it all.

Ed Weiland, a member of the park committee, said most residents are pleased with West Chester's parks. But they want more baseball and soccer fields and perhaps even a skateboard park.

"I am not sure that we would be putting in a skateboard park but everyone wants to see more development taking place," he said.

The park levy may or may not help fund West Chester's planned community center.

While a levy for the center is one option to pay for its operating costs, trustees on Tuesday will discuss whether to fund the $20 million to $30 million project with tax increment financing.


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