Mon Commission discusses county-wide recreation levy

MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney said time constraints might not be the only hurdle Morgantown city officials need to navigate if they want to place a county-wide levy to assist the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC) on the November ballot.

She advised the city officials to check with the West Virginia Tax Department to see if BOPARC’s involvement in a successful county-wide recreation levy passed by voters in 2016 would preclude the city from bringing a similar question while the original levy remains on the books.

Blaney’s comments were part of a Wednesday morning work session between members of the Monongalia County Commission and Morgantown City Manager Paul Brake and Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis.

“I think there might be something to look at because we’ve already passed a recreation levy, and I think you may need to do some investigation into whether you can put up a second levy,” Blaney said, noting time is also a factor.

Bloom pointed out that the state recommends ballot language be in the hands of the county commission 71 days ahead of the vote — in this case the election is Nov. 6, meaning the commission should have any proposed levy language by Aug. 27. Blaney said that could probably be pushed to Sept. 1 at the latest.

The conversation was a continuation of Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council meeting, during which council discussed the possibility of a dedicated levy to help address an estimated $30 million in capital improvement needs for BOPARC facilities. That number jumps to about $40 million if a new ice rink is included.

Brake said the city is interested in beginning a conversation with the county, noting a levy is one option.

“Kind of the broader discussion is, what we got into a little bit last night is really looking at what are all the options on the table,” Brake said. “[A levy] is an answer. It may not be the answer.”

If a levy is presented, the commission’s role will be solely to determine if it meets the standards for placement on the ballot, not to judge whether or not it’s worthwhile.

The hour-long session grew contentious, albeit briefly, as Bloom and Brazaitis went back and forth over what responsibility the county should have in funding the city’s parks and recreation program.

Brazaitis pointed out that as much as half of BOPARC’s patrons are county residents while the county provided $50,000 to BOPARC’s approximately $3.3 million budget for a specific program compared to the city’s contribution of $1.17 million.

“The big picture is cooperation, recognizing we’re all in this together. Recognizing that BOPARC is a 50-50 patron deal with 50 percent from the county and 50 percent from the city, but the city is funding BOPARC to a greater extent than the county,” Brazaitis said before Bloom jumped in.

“That’s because it’s the city parks. You’re giving nothing to the county parks, the city of Morgantown. It is a city function,” Bloom said, pointing out that county residents pay the same fees to use the facilities. “That’s what I want to make clear and what you need to understand. Do you know what would happen if the city loses the county residents from going there? It’s an amenity to come to Morgantown.”

Brazaitis went on to say that the county chose private partners — the Mylan Park Board — over BOPARC when choosing a location for the new track and aquatic center.

Bloom said that was not the case. He said the four-year process to bring the Mountaineer Center to fruition was spearheaded initially by BOPARC, adding that early recommendations to place the amenities in the city’s 1st Ward were turned down by the city.

Commissioner Sean Sikora said that the city-county relationship could become even more strained if both sides start looking for reasons to feel slighted.

“I can point to our health department. I know they came to you guys and you gave them $16,000. Well, $16,000 is a lot lower percentage of a $4 million budget than $50,000 is of a $3 million budget,” Sikora said. “I don’t want to have those types of conversations.”

Sikora went on to say that the county’s grant program — through which the $50,000 was approved for BOPARC — provides $1.7 million to non-profits, many of which are located inside Morgantown’s boundaries. He used Senior Monongalians as an example.

“We may not have the check for BOPARC, but we are certainly benefiting all the other things going on,” he said.

Both sides agreed to continue the conversation with a focus on identifying small, achievable goals.

Commissioner Ed Hawkins is assisting with 4-H camp and did not attend the work session.

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