By Mike Barhorst
In the next few weeks, I want to talk about the important role the numerous boards and commissions play within the community, and the vital contribution the volunteers who serve their community as members of the boards make by providing input and direction impacting all of our futures. I will begin with a group that has familiarity with most in the community – the Recreation Board.
Before any of us were born, there were those with foresight who knew that great cities had great public places. As Sidney grew, there were local leaders who were similarly inspired. As a result, few of us have to walk more than a half-mile to reach one of the city’s 24 parks.
In 1955, the Recreation Board developed a long-range recreation plan that suggested the city should have a park within one-half mile of every resident. As a result, that thinking became an integral part of the future planning for the city, and the practice begun more than six decades ago continues through the present day.
It was also in 1955 that the City of Sidney was given Tawawa Park. The land that became the park was purchased by a group of citizens who incorporated as a non-profit on May 24, 1948. As I have detailed in this column previously, the leaders of the groups did some arm-twisting among their friends, raising enough money to purchase the land.
So how does our community make the decisions that impact our park system? As with most everything involving government, the answer can be found within the law.
Chapter 755 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) gives the city the authority to establish a recreation board to oversee parks, playgrounds, playfields, gymnasiums, public baths, swimming pools, and recreation centers. The City of Sidney has a very active Recreation Board. As an advisory board, the Sidney Recreation Board makes recommendations to the staff and to city council regarding not only the more than 400 acres of park land, but recreational activities and the operation of the Sidney Water Park.
The ORC event dictates who may serve on the board, and the appointing authority. Recreation boards consist of five citizens who serve five year terms. Two of the members are appointed by the local public board of education, and must be residents of the school district although they need not be residents of the city. In our case, the Sidney Board of Education’s two current appointees include Amy Zorn and Tim Bickel.
Three of the members are appointed by the mayor with city council confirmation. These recreation board representatives must reside within city limits. The three individuals currently serving as city representatives include Angela Ross, Todd Ratermann and Mary Jannides.
As an aside, I want to take a moment to say a special thanks to Mary Jannides. First appointed by Mayor Anthony Antonoplos, Mary has served on the Recreation Board since 1972, reappointed every five years since. She is currently serving her 45th year as a member of the Recreation Board!
The Recreation Board holds its regular meetings on the first Monday of the month at 4:15 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. In the event of a holiday, the meeting is held the following Monday. The Board does not meet January, July, November, and December. Their meetings are open to the public.
The Sidney Recreation Board’s Mission Statement is to improve community services and facilities with regard to safety, education, recreation, and public health. The board’s current objectives include: 1) utilization of the Great Miami River corridor; 2) development of a walkway/bikeway system linking parks and neighborhoods; 3) establishing guidelines for future park planning; 4) determining recreational facility needs; 5) promoting passive open space development; 6) expanding recreational programming; 7) inventory/analyzing existing parks; and, 8) updating park development standards.
Included within the city’s five-year capital improvement plan is replacement of modular play equipment in six parks, improvement of the city’s entryways, continued removal of ash trees, the replacement of fencing and backstops on the softball fields at Harmon Park, the rehabilitation of Julia Lamb to include a skate park, the development of a walking trail around the perimeter of New Park, relocation of the Zenas King Bowstring Bridge to Tawawa Park, replacement of light poles at Custenborder Field, installation of a splash pad at the Sidney Water Park, development of a dog park, the purchase of park land in the Stewart Subdivision, and the replacement of park signage at various parks.
The list is extensive, with many of the projects scheduled in out-years (2020-2022). Of course, whether any of these projects can be undertaken is dependent upon funding. You will recall that state budget cuts directed at local governmental entities (townships, counties, villages and cities) impacted the Sidney of Sidney by more than $1.3M per year. Earlier this year, a local taxpayer determined that they could file their taxes differently, saving themselves more than $1.1M per year. As a result, over that five-year budget planning period, we will have $12M less revenue to spend on operations – including public safety services, utilities, streets and bridges and of course, recreation.
Fortunately, we have always budgeted conservatively. That kind of careful planning has helped to prevent disasters during periods when we experience an economic downturn. As noted above, it has also proven helpful when we have a sudden loss of expected revenue.
In my next article, I’ll talk about the Airport Advisory Board. That group advises the City Council, staff and the Airport Manager on matters related to the operation and future development of the Sidney Municipal Airport.