UH weighs bond issue to fund new park

Approximately 50 University Heights residents, along with the city’s mayor and seven council members, came together for a June 17 town meeting on a proposed $1.8 million bond issue to fund a new public park on the former site of the Fuchs Mizrachi school.

Opinions at the meeting ranged from skeptical to supportive. The largely free-form dialogue between council members and residents covered a range of topics, including the amount of the bond issue, the city’s ability to appeal to young families, and a looming Aug. 6 deadline—the date by which council must send the bond issue to the board of elections for it to be placed on this November’s ballot.

The night before the town meeting, council tabled the bond issue vote which was to have had its second reading at the June 16 meeting—the last of council’s regularly scheduled meetings until after Labor Day. Thomas Coyne, UH law director, stated that council would need to hold two special meetings if the resolution was not voted on that night—one to pass the resolution, and one to approve the bond issue’s final language.

At the June 2 UH City Council meeting, Mayor Susan Infeld had presented on first reading a resolution for the bond issue, to pay for construction of the park. The issue initially was presented on emergency, in order to send it quickly to the board of elections, but several council members said they felt rushed, and wanted more public input before voting.

Infeld compared the costs associated with the new park to the cost of building the Purvis Park pool 20 years ago. That bond issue, which added $25 in property tax for each $100,000 in home valuation, will be paid off in December 2014.

Infeld said the terms of the proposed $1.8 million park bond issue “would be for 15 years and would cost a homeowner the same $25 per $100,000 valuation that they paid for the construction of the pool and playground at Purvis Park.” The new bond issue thus would maintain the city’s current tax level by effectively extending the expiring property tax previously used to fund Purvis Park.

Bond issue funds would support the development and construction of a park on Fenwick Road, which would include youth soccer fields, a gazebo, pavilions and extensive green space. Plans and sketches are posted on the city’s website at www.universityheights.com.

Discussions about a park have unfolded since 2012. At a March 2012 UH town meeting, the majority of residents in attendance indicated, by a show of hands, their support for purchasing the former school property to create a park. The next month, UH City Council voted 6-1 to purchase the former school, with then-Vice Mayor Frankie Goldberg abstaining, citing a conflict of interest. The purchase price was $600,000. Subsequently, a UH citizen’s committee formed to determine the use of the property. The city paid approximately $230,000 for school building demolition and asbestos abatement.

Council members cited a lack of public and personal awareness of the specifics of the legislation as their motivation for delaying a final vote on submitting the levy.

“Our duty is to ensure citizens are fully informed about the costs of the park,” said Councilwoman Pamela Cameron, whose comments were echoed by Councilman Steven Sims.

“City council only recently became aware of the cost of the park,” said Sims, explaining that the city’s governing body was reluctant to submit the levy to the state without knowing exactly how the final spending estimate had been determined.

“I think it should move ahead,” said Infeld. “I don’t think it was rushed.” Infeld spoke of how much time the issue has already spent in the public forum, the fact that taxes would not be increased but instead maintained at present levels, the investment the city had already made in the property, and academic research that suggests property values increase when there is a public park nearby.

To address the concerns expressed by some council members and residents that the park plan was being rushed, Mayor Infeld cited the original 2012 presentation on the park, which she brought to the meeting, along with the minutes of every subsequent council meeting where the park was discussed.

Infeld read a series of e-mails that were largely supportive of the proposed bond issue, but some residents in attendance expressed concerns about the narrowness of the levy, in its focus only on funding the new park; other possible uses for the Fuchs Mizrachi space; the city’s already high tax rate; and whether extensive development was necessary for the park to be functional. The majority of speakers, however, agreed that it was time for council to proceed and submit the issue to voters.

“We’re here either to have the bond issue go forward or not,” said University Heights resident Josie Pophal at the meeting. “We’ve been sitting on something for two and a half years. We need to have the green space developed. We need to put something in place that will last.”

Alastair Pearson

Alastair Pearson, a Cleveland Heights resident and recent Saint Ignatius graduate, will attend Columbia University this fall. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy Journal, among other publications. Kim Sergio Inglis contributed to this article.

Read More on University Heights
Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:47 PM, 06.30.2014