The city of Westerville could be on the ballot as early as next November, asking residents to renew its 0.25-percent Parks, Recreation and Open Space income tax levy.

The city of Westerville could be on the ballot as early as next November, asking residents to renew its 0.25-percent Parks, Recreation and Open Space income tax levy.

For the last year, the Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation has worked to update its PROS strategic plan, looking at goals for the department for the next 15 to 20 years.

To work to implement the goals outlaid in the plan, which council is expected to vote to adopt in the coming months, the department needs to have a secure income base, department Director Randy Auler said during a Westerville City Council work session Nov. 12.

"That income tax is important," Auler said. "It provides consistency and certainty and allows us to do a level of planning. ... It enables us to leverage dollars with other sources to generate alternative funding."

Passed by voters in a special election in August 1998, the original 0.25-percent income tax was proposed to build the Westerville Community Center, acquire land for new parks and complete improvements for all parks across the city. That portion of the city's 2-percent income tax is set to expire in 2020.

Auler said in looking at residents' goals for the department, its facilities and its programming during the planning process, it was evident that the 0.25-percent PROS levy would be adequate to fund new project and programs, and to reinvest in infrastructure for the foreseeable future -- if it is renewed or made permanent through another vote.

Talking to residents throughout the planning process, Auler said department officials also gained confidence in residents' support of the levy.

In a survey, 85 percent of residents said they felt the levy provided a good value for the investment, Auler said.

Ninety-three percent of residents use the parks and recreation department's facilities and programs, the survey showed.

"We're doing the right things the right way in terms of serving our community," Auler said. "Citizens really value the quality, the types of things that we do."

The updated PROS plan does show room for improvement, however.

The Westerville Senior Center is out of date and over capacity, Auler said.

The plan shows the city expanding the Westerville Community Center to increase fitness and aquatics space, and to create a dedicated senior space.

That is one of the most crucial needs in the plan, Auler said, and parks and recreation officials would like to begin a more formal planning process for that project. That process would take the next two to three years, he said.

Other priorities outlined in the plan include expanding the path system; establishing an "outdoor adventure" park, with climbing walls, an obstacle course and zip lines; increasing access to natural spaces and waterways; and installing artificial turf on some of the city's sports fields to decrease costs and increase the amount of time teams can spend using the fields.

Overall, City Council members expressed support for the plan and for seeking a renewal of the PROS levy.

City Council Chairman Mike Heyeck said renewing the PROS tax next year would allow the city to address priorities quickly.

"The Senior Center is in need of repairs, and you can't go out and build something with a 10- or 20-year mortgage unless you have a tax issue that goes into that 10- or 20-year time frame," Heyeck said. "If we wait until 2020, we can't do anything with the Senior Center.

"To me, that's the No. 1 priority because you go there, it's pretty crowded and pretty aging."

The department has many initiatives to tackle as outlined in the plan, said Councilman Larry Jenkins, but the city can't adequately do that if funding is not secured well into the future.

"It's not just one issue. It's the ability to act and continue to grow the park system at any opportunity to come along. We're really at the capacity of the (previous) PROS plan," Jenkins said. "(The levy renewal is) a continuation of the same revenue people have been committed to for the last 20 years."