Butler County MetroParks seeking $13 million of stimulus funds: What’s in the plan

MetroParks of Butler County is asking the county commissioners to consider giving them $13 million of the $75 million in American Rescue Plan funding to finished gaps in the Great Miami River trail system and other projects. PROVIDED
MetroParks of Butler County is asking the county commissioners to consider giving them $13 million of the $75 million in American Rescue Plan funding to finished gaps in the Great Miami River trail system and other projects. PROVIDED

Credit: PROVIDED

Credit: PROVIDED

MetroParks is the latest Butler County entity hoping for a sizeable chunk of the county commissioners’ $75 million in federal coronavirus relief funding, with a $13 million request to improve the Great Miami River trail system.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law March 11, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Butler County’s direct share is nearly $75 million and the commissioners are still mulling how to spend it.

A handful of entities have already submitted ideas, MetroParks submitted a request for $13 million, including:

  • $6.5 million to create a county-wide scenic waterway overlook system
  • $6 million to fill gaps in the Great Miami River trail corridor
  • $254,500 to recoup lost rental and license fees due to the coronavirus pandemic
  • $213,474 for sanitation systems and equipment for buildings and parks
  • $40,100 for first responder radios for park police
  • $20,356 for large tents

MetroParks Executive Director Jonathan Granville said officials there understand this is a large request — about 17.5% of the total county allocation.

“Money is arriving at local political subdivisions and in states and nobody is 100% sure yet what you can do with it,” Granville told the Journal-News. “But if you don’t ask you don’t receive, so that’s the philosophy we took on this particular request.”

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The U.S. Treasury is tasked with divvying up the funding and it awarded direct allocations to states, counties and local units of government with 50,000-plus residents. The county will receive $74.4 million, Hamilton $33.6 million, Middletown $18.9 million and West Chester Twp. $6.6 million.

The treasury’s plan also allocates $843.7 million to Ohio for distribution to “non-entitlement” entities or smaller jurisdictions below the 50,000 population threshold. The treasury this week announced the 1,305 smaller townships in Ohio are designated “minor civil divisions” so it is now up to the state to decide if they get anything at all.

Granville said the 5,000 acre, 11-park system and athletic complex at Voice of America qualify as major components in the tourism industry here, that took a huge hit during the pandemic shutdown, so officials hope the request meets funding guidelines.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter has been meeting with township and city officials and other entities forideas for the best use of the money. She said the MetroParks plan and some other bike trail ideas would definitely boost the county’s crippled tourism economy.

She wants to meet with her fellow commissioners in the next couple weeks to get started. The first half of the funding was due this month and the rest next May. The county has until the end of 2024 to spend it.

“What’s important to me is the long-term benefit to Butler County,” Carpenter said. “What extraordinary thing can we do with this money it’s the first time we’ve had an opportunity to fund something at this high of a level.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said he would likely give priority to townships if they remain unfunded — all three commissioners said they would share the windfall with unfunded townships — but any projects must be self-sustaining.

“The first rule is don’t create a project that will only continue to require more money to keep it going,” Dixon said. “More tax levies, more taxpayers’ money, so you don’t have that ongoing drain on the general fund or other agencies having to go back out to the taxpayers for more money.”

Granville said filling the gaps in the trail system will not create a taxpayer burden.

“Capital improvements like a trail system are really a good investment,” Granville said. “Because you pave a trail on a corridor you’ve got 20 years of potential use.”

The Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board has indicated it would like funding — estimates are still being drafted but at least $1 million is a ballpark — for a new emergency mental health crisis stabilization center.

Middletown is looking for $6.6 million to help the city “transform and redevelop” the Ohio 4 corridor entrance to the city and also support the Oakland Neighborhood revitalization.

“Honestly I’m just still formulating in my mind about what I think is fair, to make disbursements throughout the county on requests that don’t just fill some need on the short run, but cost them and us a bunch of money in the long run,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said of the task before them.