Westerville News & Public Opinion

Survey: Residents like parks, don't mind PROS tax

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At the last Westerville City Council meeting March 11, Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler presented an update of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan, and outlined the upcoming projects that the city hopes the Parks and Recreation Department will be able to tackle.

The presentation highlighted a survey in which the city polled more than 3,000 citizens in 2013. Residents were asked what they liked and didn't like about Westerville parks, as well as what they would like to see and what they take part in.

The majority of those polled -- 67 percent -- rated park quality as "excellent," while an encouraging 93 percent reported using a park or facility within the last year, and 60 percent participated in a department program.

"We feel pretty good about what the community wants, what their expectations are, and the things we need to keep doing to provide great service that makes Westerville a great place," Auler said in an interview. "We enhance the economic development opportunities because people want to locate and work in communities that have a high quality of life, and certainly our parks system provides that."

Even the city's 0.25-percent income tax for parks, passed in 1998, received favorable reviews, with 85 percent of those polled rating the use of income tax as "good" or "excellent."

The citizens aren't the only ones approving of Westerville's work. The city won the National Recreation and Park Association's Gold Medal award in 2013, one of its four.

"That's the highest award that you can get for excellence in parks and recreation management services," Auler said.

Now, Auler and Westerville hope to build on their success by expanding the city's pathways system, expanding the community center -- perhaps to include a new Westerville Senior Center -- and improving access to waterways in the Alum Creek corridor.

The projects are still in the early stages of concept and design, and Auler said figures such as cost and dates will come in the future.

"They're just conceptual at this point, so we haven't done any of that yet," he said. "The purpose of the plan was to find out what citizens want, what they need, what are trends and expectations out there, and identify what those projects might be. The next step then, is determining how they are funded."

Auler and the city hope that the funding will be able to come from extending the same 0.25-percent PROS income tax allotted for parks use. Passed in 1998, it funded more than $30 million of parks improvements across the city, including construction of the Westerville Community Center.

The tax is set set to expire in 2020, when the $30 million worth of projects will be paid off. While there are still funds left from the tax passed in 1998, city officials hope to craft a new list of parks projects residents will find valuable -- valuable enough to renew or extend the tax -- though there is no timetable yet.

"It will take a renewal of the quarter-percent income tax to be able to do these types of projects, along with being able to provide the service that the community expects from us," Auler said.

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