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By Dan Yount 

The Cincinnati Herald

Officials with Great Parks of Hamilton County are withdrawing their recent levy proposal for the November 2020 ballot, following criticism from community leaders. They plan to consider placing the initiative on the November 2021 ballot. 

Todd Palmeter, Great Parks CEO, this week in a letter to community leaders stated, “The response we received from several elected officials and well-respected leaders in our community was something we did not expect. However, it was important that we listened and kept an open mind to better understand the current needs and priorities of this community.  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.’’ 

Palmeter added that while Great Parks’ leaders intend to pursue a levy in 2021, Great Parks would look different to the voters over the next several months and until the successful passage of additional levy funding. It will be necessary to operate services at a minimum including limited access to certain areas of parks, closing of facilities and amenities as well as reduced program and educational opportunities, he said. 

“Great Parks is also dedicated to operating as good stewards of taxpayer dollars and has been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association 21 times for outstanding financial reporting. We only ask the voters of Hamilton County for additional funds when there is a real need and now is one of those times,’’ he said. 

Following the onset of onset of COVID-19, the last few months have been difficult due to the medical and economic impacts of the pandemic, he said, noting Great Parks made a conscious effort to be a place where people could escape. This year, the county parks have seen a 77% increase in trail usage alone.

“It is clear that people need their parks now more than ever. And while we have been thrilled to keep our parks open to serve our residents, Great Parks has not been immune from the financial impacts of the pandemic. To account for massive lost earned revenue, we have had to cut our budget by $4.7 million for 2020 alone and this financial impact will continue in 2021. This put Great Parks in a position where, in order to address over $60 million in critical infrastructure, while also meeting the needs of the community evidenced in the Master Plan. Thus, the board made the decision to place an additional 1.8 mill tax levy on the November ballot, he said. 

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