WILMINGTON — Creation of a Joint Recreation District (JRD) with a countywide mission is the recommendation of a task force that was originated to explore proposed wellness-and-recreation projects in Wilmington and Blanchester.
The task force’s report and recommendation were presented Wednesday to Clinton County commissioners, and similar presentations are scheduled before Wilmington City and Blanchester Village Councils in the coming days.
The JRD envisioned by the task force would be formed through an intergovernmental agreement among the local governments of Clinton County, the City of Wilmington, and the Village of Blanchester.
Local attorney William “Bill” Peelle, a task force member, said the recommendation to form a JRD is what the group determined to be the best vehicle to move the entire county forward when it comes to the goals of wellness, quality of life, and recreation.
The task force’s suggestion that a JRD be started in the county is the outcome, said Peelle, of “more global thinking” compared to simply considering funding alternatives for the proposed Wilmington and Blanchester projects.
“Throughout this process, in our surveys, focus group meetings and general discussions with the public, we have heard time and again from residents all over the county that safe, clean and affordable recreational and wellness options are desperately needed for more than one segment of our population,” Peelle stated.
The originating idea, noted Peelle, was that there is a need for a wellness-and-recreation center in Wilmington, but the task force’s conclusion has been that the whole county needs to be provided wellness and recreation opportunities.
He said a key impetus to the task force’s recommendation is, in part, the findings in the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment commissioned by HealthFirst for Clinton County, a local foundation. The assessment identified that fewer than half of Clinton Countians take part in any moderate or strenuous exercise on a weekly basis, which reportedly is well below the national average.
Making matters worse, more than 70 percent of Clinton County residents are overweight, and smoking and diabetes continue to adversely affect the local population, stated a task force media release.
“No, we can’t have a large facility in every little village. But we can provide them with the minimum and more — what they should be able to have for their citizens. And we should be able to provide the opportunity for everybody in our county to be able to use recreation and wellness facilities,” Peelle told commissioners during his presentation.
Peelle and Clinton County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Taylor Stuckert pointed out that the 2016 Clinton County Parks and Open Space Plan recommended a JRD as a new model for county parks. That same document states that a JRD addresses the matter of financial resources.
A JRD, through its board of trustees, can put a tax levy on the ballot, and then voters would have to approve the proposed levy by a majority vote.
A JRD will have authority under Ohio law to acquire, construct, operate and maintain facilities for civic or recreational activities for the benefit of all citizens, the media release states.
The task force is suggesting a seven-member JRD Board of Trustees that “would be able to partner with villages, municipalities, townships, and school districts to develop and maintain public recreation programs and facilities.”
There are a number of JRDs in Ohio.
The Wilmington and Blanchester Parks Departments can remain autonomous units, according to Peelle.
“What we want to do is to establish a district in order to be able to bring forth and create those facilities where they are needed, to help everybody either by enhancing a facility or bringing in a new one,” Peelle said.
Clinton County Commissioners President Brenda K. Woods expressed a concern about the proposed makeup of the board which would have three trustees appointed by the county, three by Wilmington, and one by Blanchester. She spoke about the population of Wilmington being less than a third of the population of the county overall, and questioned why the county and city would have the same number of appointments.
In response, one thing that was mentioned is that many Clinton Countians who aren’t Wilmington residents utilize Wilmington parks, which because of those parks’ central location within the county — plus their infrastructure and capacity — serve all county citizens.
In response to the same question, Peelle said the city doesn’t have to pick a city resident, nor does the county have to pick a person who lives outside Wilmington.
The idea is to get the best seven people possible on the board, he added.
Clinton County Commissioner Mike McCarty, who was appointed in March by his fellow commissioners to the task force, said Wednesday of the JRD idea, “I think it has a lot of validity to move forward and potentially do some good things for the county.”
Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed asked a couple questions, including one inquiring about the relationship between a JRD and the Wilmington or Blanchester park systems.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.