Fairfield parks department impacted with project delays, budget cuts

The city of Fairfield is pushing back two major parks projects, one of which is the Harbin Park loop trail, back to at least 2021. GREG LYNCH/FILEYNCH/STAFF

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The city of Fairfield is pushing back two major parks projects, one of which is the Harbin Park loop trail, back to at least 2021. GREG LYNCH/FILEYNCH/STAFF

Fairfield officials are planning to cut nearly $2.9 million from the city’s 2020 operating budget, with the public works, police and parks departments taking the biggest financial hit.

The parks department will see more than 90 percent of its project funding for 2020 pushed back to at least 2021, according to city Finance Director Scott Timmer.

“It was not easy to see their budgets cut pretty severely, but it was something that was necessary,” said City Manager Mark Wendling.

Fairfield’s 2020 operating budget was previously approved by the city council at $75.6 million, with $30.3 million in the city’s general fund. City leaders are cutting 3.78 percent, leaving the city spending an estimated $72.77 million in 2020 (which would be around $1.36 million more being spent in 2020 than in 2019). The majority ($1.42 million) would be cut from the general fund.

On Monday, City Council approved the proposed capital improvement program budget reductions based on the impact of the novel coronavirus. The Public Works Department will have its 2020 budget cut by more than $725,000, or 11.3 percent, while the police department will see more than $660,000, or 4.8 percent, cut.

The parks department is the most-impacted city department due to COVID-19. The department will see $426,000, or 8 percent, cut from its 2020 budget.

A large portion of the parks department’s cuts come because the aquatic center is closed for the summer season.

The DeWine Administration laid out 37 major rules all pools have to adhere to before opening, which Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Howard said was not financially feasible, and some were not practical, such as closing every two hours to disinfect.

The parks department is also pushing back two major projects, totaling $2.4 million, because state leaders and lawmakers have been undecided about the fate of its biennial capital budget. The Harbin Park improvement projects, half of which are to be paid for by the city, are expected to be pushed to at least 2021.

The city plans to spend upwards on $2 million for renovations at the overlook at surrounding amenities, including an overlook pavilion and restroom facility, the first phase of the Harbin Park redevelopment.

Also being delayed is the $400,000 Phase 1 of the loop trail around Harbin Park.

“We’re ready to go, we’re shovel-ready,” said Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Howard. “We have our plans in our hands and we’re just waiting for the state funding to come through.”

Timmer said these projects are dependant on up to 50 percent of outside funding — most of which (around $750,000) is expected to be from the state.

“We haven’t received any indication on whether that funding would be received or given out, so at this point, we have them as a reduction as it appears that funding is unlikely,” he said.

The parks department has slowly re-opened many of its amenities as permitted by the state, and on Wednesday, it is allowed the use of its playgrounds, outdoor bathroom facilities, shelters and the FurField Dog Park. There are still some amenities, such as the Community Arts Center performance theater, the city is still waiting on the DeWine Administration’s guidance.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to make each individual feel safe and comfortable while visiting our parks, programs and facilities, especially now as we adjust to our new normal,” Howard said.

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