Proposed Tax Would Provide Dedicated Parks Funding Stream, $85M in Improvements

A campaign to improve Cincinnati’s parks by raising the City’s property tax by 1 mill will “change the city for the better,” according to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D).

Cranley made his remarks during the official launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign on Saturday morning at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.

Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.

“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.

The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.

“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”

Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.

“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”

While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.

Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).

“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.

The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.

“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”

Other projects include:

  • Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
  • A public-private partnership with Western & Southern Financial Group that would provide $5 million to renovate and reprogram Lytle Park;
  • $5 million for the redevelopment of a portion of the former Mercy Hospital complex in Westwood into athletic fields and green space for an expanded Oskamp Park;
  • A $5 million redesign of Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine/Pendleton, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC);
  • $4 million for streetscape and roadway improvements surrounding Christ Hospital and improvements to Inwood Park in Mount Auburn;
  • $2 million for the preservation of the historic King Studios site and development of a small café/museum in Evanston;
  • $2 million for upgrades around Westwood Town Hall and Epworth Avenue; and
  • $1.8 million for a new boat dock/marina at Smale Riverfront Park.

“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”

  • EDG

    Should be a decent plan as long as Cranley leaves his usual asinine comments on transportation and urbanism out of it.

  • midwestfarmersdaughter

    There are many problems with this plan. First of all, we are already paying property taxes that are to provide for the improvement/maintenance of our parks; pushing basic city services off the budget and an earmarked permanent levy is more of the same spending poor budgeting which we have come to expect from our mayor. This plan puts us in debt. How interesting that we can pay GE $60 million to move to the Banks but the parks (basic city services) get shortchanged. Secondly, when we will ever learn that the city is not in the business or restaurants? A restaurant and more parking lots in Burnet Woods is a bad move; it is simply destroying green space, adding litter and drawing away business from the many restaurants already in Clifton. Streetscaping in front of Christ Hospital, upgrading the grounds of Westwood Town Hall, a memorial to King Records do not belong in the park budget. Why in the world should citizens pay for an “urban campground” on private property, ESPECIALLY in Roselawn when the Cincinnati Recreation Commission just upgraded to a first class baseball/sports park. As usual, when it comes to spending OPM, (other people’s money) the plans are excessive and include too many pet projects. Finally, how ironic that the Park Director, won’t be paying up as he doesn’t even live in the city. Perhaps you cannot tell, but I love and enjoy our parks and am a bike enthusiast, but the Mayor needs to quit giving our money away to corporations and building free parking lots and live within his ample tax revenues. I won’t be voting for this excessive, PERMANENT tax for basic city services.

  • 14thatBremen

    Is Hamilton County still considering a property tax to fund the Hamilton County Parks District? I have mixed emotions about being asked to pay for two park systems.

  • David Thomas

    Ziegler Park needs to be redone, nothing but drug dealing going on there. People won’t like eliminating the pool though. Burnet Woods is a uncomfortable park now. Needs to be cleared out, but would love to have a dog park added to it.

    Does anyone know if this would also mean current parks would be cleaned up more? Or removing more dead trees like the one that tragically fell on a person in Bond Hill?

    • EDG

      What people understand is that Burnet Woods has never been a formal park like Central Park but simply a green space preserve. UC came in and used the bottom half, MLK split it and some small WPA and other improvements were made. You could make some active/passive rec improvements to the corners or edges like Millenium and Daley parks in Chi, but a total redo should be discouraged. Clifton needs to be narrowed, MLK downgraded from a highway, and some attention paid to the Jefferson Ave business district and more people would use the park.

  • Neil Clingerman

    I’m concerned this tax will discourage people from voting on much needed improvements to transportation. Cincy already has a pretty great park system for a city its size, whats seriously lacking is transit. Cranley is too stubborn and foolish to push for that of course.

    • EDG

      You’re probably right, especially since we all know how Crancel views the Wasson Way and the fact it was included in this. It’s easier to build parking garages for your developer cronies since $8/visit to park downtown seems to be a reasonable levy.

  • CollegeHill_45224

    HA. Can’t wait to vote NO on this.

  • Why do I automatically distrust anything the mayor proposes. And I see he is still a master of division, always pitting the commuters against the recreational bikers.

  • akaPatience

    Whoa there. I don’t like the fact that the mayor and City Manager will decide how new revenue from the tax will be spent. Cronyism will certainly result. Bad idea.

  • charles ross

    County and City parks should merge. We have a single Library system – why not parks too?

  • James Heller-Jackson

    75% of this goes directly to the Mayor and his cronies to control without oversight. Why isn’t everyone outraged about this? I think we need some community discussion before this moves forward.