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Olander Park System returns to financial stability with levy passage

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    Olander Park System is back on solid financial ground following the passage of a new levy last week. It had to cut to bare-bones operations this year.

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    Two walkers make their way down the trail in Olander Park in October.

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    Olander Park

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Two walkers make their way down the trail in Olander Park in October.

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Olander Park System officials breathed a sigh of relief when an 0.8-mill property tax levy for the park district passed Tuesday night, with 75 percent of voters supporting the measure.

The tax will provide $1,115,123 annually for five years, about $100,000 more a year than a levy that expired at the end of 2016. It brings financial stability back to the park district, which went without property tax revenue in 2017 because the new levy was left off last year’s ballot after park officials missed a filing deadline.

To cut costs, the park system laid off two full-time and two part-time employees, cut the director’s salary by 20 percent, and reduced three other employees’ salaries by 12 percent. The advertising budget also was slashed, from $40,000 to $3,000, and the programming budget was cut from $30,000 to $10,000.

“We’ve been running pretty bare-bones over the last year,” board Chairman Hal McElmurry said.

Now, with levy funds back in place, Executive Director Erika Buri is hopeful the board will restore salaries for those still employed and hire additional staff. She said she wants to bring on a full-time natural resources manager, project manager, and program coordinator, as well as a part-time financials coordinator and facilities employee.

She’d also like to bring on a seasonal horticulture specialist, and she said she plans to restore summertime staff so Lake Olander’s beach can reopen.

“The board hasn’t made any decisions yet,” she said. “We’ll see what happens with salaries, but we are anticipating hiring additional staff.”

Ms. Buri said she is developing some new programming for the park system to complement the existing weekly nature programs and annual events such as the Trout Derby and the Easter Egg Hunt.

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Olander Park

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The staff also will begin work on a walking path on the west side of Olander Park and a complete update of the playground at the north end of the park. They’re also working to ensure the sledding hill at Sylvan Prairie can be used the winter of 2018-19.

Ms. Buri said the park system wouldn’t have been able to function as smoothly as it did this year without the help of volunteers and donations from local businesses.

“That was really awesome,” she said. “We were able to do the Halloween Hike, the Easter Egg Hunt, Trout Derby, and the concert series solely with sponsorship support.”

Mr. McElmurry said he hopes the board can finalize a five-year financial plan and prioritize park improvements by the end of the year. The district still needs to make it through December with its limited funds, but Ms. Buri said the budget is in good shape.

“If we’re really fortunate, we might even be able to carry over a little bit into next year,” she said.

The park system’s next board meeting is Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. at the Callahan Administrative Office at Olander Park.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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