Parks and rec levy to return to ballot

LynAnne Vucovich • Nov 15, 2019 at 8:40 AM

A property tax levy for the Norwalk parks and recreation department will return to the ballot in the March 2020 primary election, to be effective in 2021.

The five-year, 1.75-mill levy would combine three existing levies — all with various expiration dates — into one for the same millage, with current values.

The levy failed in the Nov. 5 election by an unofficial count of 1,899 to 1,690.

If the property tax levy passes, it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $26.59 per year and $19.95 for homestead residents. The requested 1.75 mills are what the department collects now through the three levies. If the new one passes, it will bring in more revenue because it has current values.

“We only have three chances to pass this. Our first chance was in November of this year so we only have two chances next year,” said Michelle Reeder, finance director. “So if we don’t make this in the spring, our last chance to get this passed or renewed would be in the fall of next year and if it didn’t pass, we would be out of money that following year.”

Council members Matt Doughty and Steve Euton expressed some concern for the levy returning.

Law director Steve O’Hara said as of now the wording on the levy has not changed, but it could.

“My concern is that we had a department head that was concerned or frustrated with the wording and I thought we would have known that beforehand,” Euton said. “So I’d like to prepare for that.”

With a nearly $1.8 million annual budget, the money will go toward the operation and maintenance of the parks and rec department. The funds help everything from financing youth programs and facilities to mowing the reservoir.

“We’re disappointed. I think it’s very good for parks and rec when (a levy) gets passed,” Mayor Rob Duncan said. “With three different levies you have to pay for each levy (to be on the ballot), so we’re going to try to make sure (people) understand that the three levies will go away when the one is passed.”

Duncan said from a budgeting standpoint, the levy takes to two budgets and combines them into one. The combination levy will allow for the recreation and aquatic center budgets to be one, and will simplify budget issues drastically.

“We won’t be receiving any additional funds out of the levy for next year's budget, we’re hoping to get it passed in the upcoming election,” said Ellen Heinz, safety-service director. “We appreciate the support of the citizens and we look forward to bringing this back to the voters at a later date.”

Joe Linenberger, the superintendent of Norwalk parks and recreation department, is optimistic about the levy.

“The ballot language was confusing but that’s being rectified by council, so it’s more clear,” Linenberger said. “I think we need to make sure that the public is a little more education about what it’s for and why we’re doing it this way.

“Through the budget that was presented to council for next year, we’ll be OK. We want to maintain or parks and facilities at the level our residents expect,” Linenberger said. “If (the levy isn’t passed) we’ll be put in a position where we’ll be forced to make difficult decisions.”

Linenberger said the current levies are outdated and it is important for the recreation budget for them to be closer to today’s value.

“This is the same millage we collect now, but only at today’s value,” Linenberger said. “We want a sliver, not the whole pie.”

Linenberger said he wants to make sure the language is more clear to the voters.

“We’re looking forward to this year,” Linenberger said. “We have a lot of things planned and we’re trying to maintain the facilities we do have.”

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