Berkshire Township residents will have the opportunity to vote on two park issues in the Nov. 5 election.
The Delaware County Board of Elections describes each issue in detail. First is a “bond issue (principal $3,356,000; rate 1-mil, 20 years, commencing 2019, first due 2020) establishing a public park, making site improvements, acquiring land and acquiring equipment and a site therefor.” The other is written as a “property tax (additional 0.5-mill, a continuing period of time, commencing 2019, first due 2020) parks and recreational purposes.”
Berkshire is holding two open houses on the issues at the township hall, 1454 Rome Corners Road, Galena. At the first open house on Sept. 19, township Administrator Jeff George said that staff could not campaign for or against the parks, they could only answer residents’ questions and provide information.
Last November, Berkshire completed a “Parks and Trails Master Plan.” The township calls it a flexible document for the areas not in the villages of Galena and Sunbury. “The recommendations of this plan respond to current recreational needs and desires of township residents while supporting regional initiatives for connectivity.”
A community survey was taken as part of the plan, which indicated most responding residents were in favor of the township creating new parks and trails. Beth Hugh, who formerly served a similar role in Orange Township, was hired as parks director. George praised her ability to write grants.
In addition, an all-resident Park Board was established in May and has held public meetings since June. Emma Speight is chair; Matt Ulrey is vice chair; Julie Heitz is secretary; and the other members are Stephanie Allen; Summer Fenton; Tony Nicol; and Kelly Zakrajsek. Hugh has called the board, with its combined experience and energy, a dream team.
The first public park space in Berkshire is its Central Park (also called the Community Park) adjacent to the township hall. George said volunteers and maintenance staff played a major role in its construction in 2017-18. Features include a play area, pollinator garden, Free Library box, and learning trail. There are plans to expand the park, add a southern entry, and extend trails. Located in the center of Berkshire, the Central Park’s goal is to have a lot of open space to maintain the township’s rural character.
Existing trails in the township are primarily a southeast sliver of the Ohio to Erie Trail; and on Wilson Road as part of the NorthStar planned community and Tanger Outlets.
The Master Plan also identifies potential future parks and trails. For example, 29-acre open space in NorthStar could offer recreational fields for the township. Potential shared-use trails could be placed on 3 B’s and K, Berkshire, Carter’s Corner and Dustin roads.
Planned trails that may require cooperation with other municipalities include a Sunbury Parkway Trail; a Cheshire to Galena Route connecting Alum Creek State Park to the Hoover Recreation Area; and a Little Walnut Creek Greenway on land owned by the City of Columbus. Shared-use trails can be used by bicyclists, non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians.
In July, township trustees voted unanimously to put the two levies on the November ballot.
According to information provided by Berkshire, “The township is not permitted by law to issue bonds for the purchase of land for a park without putting it to a vote by the residents. That is why the Bond Levy is mandatory in order to move forward with the Master Plan. As a developing township, we can only preserve open space by acquiring land while it’s available for parks and recreation.”
Additionally, “The levies on the November ballot, totaling 1.5 mills, will provide the needed funds to acquire land while it’s available, start capital improvements such as a shelter, restroom, playground and trails, and provide matching/shared grant fund opportunities and operating dollars moving forward. The total cost to a homeowner is $4.38 a month per $100,000 of the auditor’s property valuation.”
For those who couldn’t make it to the Parks Levy Open House, there will be another one at the township hall from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. For residents planning to attend, keep in mind that Plumb Road between Rome Corners Road and 3 B’s and K Road is closed through Oct. 25 for culvert and bridge construction.
For residents how haven’t registered to vote or need to update their address, Oct. 7 is the deadline (early voting starts Oct. 8). It can be done online at https://boardofelections.co.delaware.oh.us/.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.