WILMINGTON — At its first meeting since its proposed countywide tax levy lost on Election Day, the Clinton County Joint Recreation District (JRD) trustees took a step back and asked themselves what to do in light of the nearly 3-to-1 margin of defeat.
Trustees indicated they continue to think there’s a need to increase residents’ access to take part in parks and recreational opportunities, and also think many local residents in some way support that goal. In the coming months the board of trustees hopes to better understand what exactly the public would support with votes.
The 3-mill, 30-year levy lost by a vote of 6,404 against (74.1 percent) and 2,237 in favor (25.9 percent). Because there are no exit polls, it’s not known what specifically led people to vote ‘no’, said JRD Trustee Taylor Stuckert.
He said he’s heard a whole range of reasons, including the levy’s millage and duration, the view that the proposed recreation and wellness center in Wilmington would basically be used by city residents and not people in the outlying parts of the county, the competing levies on the ballot, and opposition to taxes in general.
Stuckert said he does think the millage amount and the length of the levy did not sit well with people. Those figures stem from trying to provide parks countywide and also finance a new recreation and wellness center in Wilmington, said Stuckert and JRD Trustee Reneé LaPine.
In order to accommodate both countywide parks and a new recreation facility, Stuckert said it required a higher millage than people probably were comfortable with. And the two-piece plan also required — due to a necessity to finance a major capital improvement project — a duration people probably weren’t comfortable with, he said.
Ron Rudduck, co-chair of the levy campaign, attended the meeting and said he often heard the prospective recreation facility described as a Wilmington — instead of the county — recreation and wellness center. He added he understands that if a resident does not think they will use the facility they probably won’t vote for it.
He said the majority of people who would use it probably would live relatively close to it.
LaPine was the first trustee at the meeting to wonder aloud whether making the JRD proposed plans smaller would enable JRD to pass a tax issue.
Stuckert, who is the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission (RPC) executive director, said the RPC’s Clinton County Parks and Open Space Plan in 2016 estimated that a five-year, 1.25-mills levy would be sufficient for a countywide parks system that did not contemplate a recreation center.
He went on to say he’s heard from people that if the proposed levy had been for 1.25 mills and carried a term of five or 10 years, they would have voted yes.
Stuckert thinks some people want to support a parks levy that provides countywide parks services at a rate they feel is reasonable and at a length that gives them an option whether to renew it after a number of years.
Then there’s the recreation center, which Stuckert said “is a costly endeavor” but which he regards as a need, too.
The question, he added, is whether one piece of the plan is a greater need than the other? And another question is whether splitting the two aspects is something the JRD can do and should do?
“I don’t have the answer to that; I do feel confident had they been split out and had the issues been more focused toward the jurisdictions they affected, you might have seen a different result,” said Stuckert.
However it was pointed out at the meeting that the tax issue was turned down in Wilmington, notwithstanding the proposed rec center. In the unofficial results, Wilmingtonians voted 57 percent against (1,126 votes ‘no’), and 43 percent in favor (850 votes ‘yes’).
JRD Trustee Brad Reynolds said some people wanted a firm figure on how much a monthly membership fee at the recreation center would be in addition to the tax levy. Campaign spokesmen had said there would have to be some modest membership fees at the recreation center, but an exact amount was not known at this juncture.
JRD Trustee Jermaine Isaac, who is the Wilmington Parks & Recreation Department director, said in looking at the feasibility study for a recreation and wellness facility, as well as in talking to people in the community, in being a father and a coach in the community, “I know there’s a need for the amenities we are trying to bring to the county, into our community.”
Isaac added, “We need to really rethink. We know there’s a need; we know there’s a gap. But is this the way the community really wants to pay for that?”
Reynolds said increasing recreational and wellness opportunities will involve a little financial sacrifice, but “if we want to be a county that grows, and I think we do, these are the kinds of things we’re going to have to figure out a way to get it done.”
Lapine, noting that the trustees’ mission is to be a countywide JRD board, asked whether it’s possible to go back to the drawing board and state that for Wilmington this is the plan and the levy would be like 2 mills, but in New Vienna something else is the plan or project and it’s only half a mill.
“Whatever you vote on would stay in your jurisdiction — is that a possibility?” she asked.
Stuckert replied he does not know, but he thinks that’s the kind of thing for the trustees to figure out in the next several months.
Overall turnout in Clinton County for the off-year election was only 33.3 percent, which also was noted at the JRD session.
The next session of the Clinton County JRD Board of Trustees is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 in the Wilmington Municipal Building. The public is welcome.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.