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Published: Tuesday, 11/13/2012

Wood County park board rejects buying semi-automatic rifles for park rangers

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN – Wood County park commissioners on Monday nixed a proposal to purchase semi-automatic rifles for park rangers to carry in their vehicles.

Several board members said they were uncomfortable with the idea of arming park rangers so heavily.

“Perhaps the discussion we need to have is not so much about giving the rangers assault rifles but about the role of the ranger in general,” said board member Frank McLaughlin. “.. I’m just uncomfortable with moving in this direction right now.”

Park District Director Neil Munger said the rifle, with its single shot rather than buckshot, is “actually a safer weapon” than the shotgun the six rangers currently carry in their vehicles. The long gun primarily is used when rangers have to put down a rabid raccoon or other nuisance animals, he said, although the rangers are certified peace officers trained to handle the same crimes and situations as sheriff’s deputies.

Board member Bob Callecod agreed with Mr. McLaughlin, saying the park district needed to re-examine what the park rangers “are supposed to be.”

“Are they policemen?” Mr. Callecod asked. “Or are they safety people that are to help assist and inform the park users?”

The board decided to remove the $4,900 expenditure for six rifles from the proposed 2013 equipment budget and instead re-evaluate the function and purpose of the rangers over the next year.

In advance of voting on next year’s $3.5 million budget in December, the board discussed a long list of proposed capital improvement projects totaling some $800,000 for 2013.

The biggest expenditures were at the new county-city Black Swamp Preserve in Bowling Green, where the park district plans to spend $120,000 toward a trail that would connect the park to the Slippery Elm Trail, a $120,000 expenditure for a parking lot, and $95,000 for restrooms.

Mr. Munger also announced at the meeting that the park district had been awarded a $97,032 Ohio Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails grant to use toward the connector trail at the Black Swamp Preserve.

Among the other projects in the budget, Board Vice-Chairman Mary Krueger said she was not convinced that installing air-conditioning at the Thompson Stone Hall at Otsego Park at a cost of $45,000 was a good idea. Annual utility costs would rise considerably, she said, and she was concerned the air-conditioning would have to be on all summer rather than only on the hottest days.

Mr. Munger said more than 80 percent of the people who had rented the Stone Hall and responded to a subsequent survey agreed that air-conditioning would be an addition worth paying extra for. He said all of the improvements outlined in the budget, with the exception of a $25,000 office addition at park district headquarters, were requested by county residents before a strategic plan was adopted in 2007 and the park district’s 10-year, 1-mill levy approved by county voters in 2008.

“It is a very aggressive capital improvement schedule that we have here because we’re going into the final year of our five-year strategic plan,” Mr. Munger said. “We’d really like to get as much done as we can to do what the public told us they wanted to have done.”

Also Monday, the board approved a two-year agreement with Wagner Bros. to farm 61.5 acres at the Bradner Preserve by which they would pay the park district $175 per acre.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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