Liberty Park

The draft of a master plan for the Mansfield City Parks system calls for $14.7 million in improvements at the 25-acre Liberty Park (above), including a new $8 million aquatic facility. 

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution "expressing approval and support" for the adoption of the $29 million city parks master plan created by EMH&T, a Columbus firm hired by the city in 2018 to develop such a plan.

A parks committee meeting is planned for 6:40 p.m., prior to council caucus at 7.

Council is expected to also vote on a companion piece of legislation that would transfer 10 unutilized or under-utilized park properties to the Richland Land Bank. The 10 properties are primarily one to three acres in size. The largest park to be donated to the Land Bank is Hamilton, at just over 20 acres.

"This has been a long time coming. It's been a labor of love for the parks department," city parks manager Mark Abrams said Tuesday night during a September parks committee meeting.

"We have something (now) we can really sink our teeth into. I don't want council, administration or the public to get worked up on that $29 million price tag. This plan is long term. It will probably be around after I am gone," Abrams said.

Even if the resolution is approved, any improvements with a price tag over $50,000 would have to be approved by council.

Jim Dziatkowicz, director of planning and landscape architecture for EMH&T, said in September the goal for his company was to provide a "road map" the city could use in planning improvements to its parks and recreation system.

"It's a tool to plan capital improvements and set priorities," Dziatkowicz said. "It needs to be somewhat flexible. This isn't all the answers. It's some recommendations and some (budget) numbers associated with that."

The community needs assessment portion of the project, which included a survey of local residents and a public input session, didn't reveal any big surprises, Dziatkowicz said in September.

"Nothing that was really earth shattering to us," he said, "primarily improving the appearance of the parks, increasing safety and improving system-wide maintenance standards," Dziatkowicz said.

Council has moved deliberately on the two issues, providing three readings during meetings.

6th Ward Councilman Jean Taddie has expressed reservations about awarding some of the park properties to the land bank, especially in neighborhoods that may offer few other similar sites. 

Abrams told council the move would reduce the parks' system "footprint" and allow his department to better focus on the parks that remain.

"I am not trying to get rid of green space. We are trying to live within our budget, be a responsible department and make things better for everyone," Abrams said.

Some of the parks are such small parcels that Abrams said it was difficult to locate all of them.

The plan was unveiled in January, but council delayed any actions when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Ohio in March.

In January, Abrams told council, "This is something that needed to be done for years. We are at a crossroads with our parks department. Either we grow our department or we shrink our footprint. With the conversations about the (city) budget earlier, there is probably no realistic possibility of growing the budget."

Mansfield's Parks & Recreation Department operates on an annual budget of $816,000, all of it derived from the PRIDE income tax levy, first approved by voters in 2013. It generates about $3.7 million annually, with 50 percent going to the police and fire departments, 22 percent to parks and recreation, 20 percent to building demolition and eight percent to lighting.

In other action Tuesday, City Council is expected to:

-- vote on a resolution honoring telecommunicator H. Lee Robinson, who is retiring Oct. 20 after more than 32 years of service. Robinson was hired by the Mansfield Police Department as a dispatcher on July 8, 1988, and transferred to the public safety communications center, including the Mansfield Fire Department, as a telecommunicator in May 1991.

-- vote on a resolution honoring Mansfield Police Department K-9 Officer Ferro upon his retirement from the department and approve legislation allowing the dog to remain with his handler, Officer Joshua Frech. K-9 Ferro is a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd who came to the department in August 2017, working in patrol and narcotics operations.

-- vote on an ordinance approving the appointment of Ron Abrams to the City of Mansfield Board of Tax Appeals.

-- vote on a project that will allow improvements at Carrousel Properties in the public right-of-way at 80 W. Third St., granting a license to install concrete, planters and canopies in the right-of-way on North Weldon Street and West Third Street. Carrousel Properties would pay for the improvements.

A 6:30 p.m. finance committee meeting, the parks committee meeting, caucus and council legislative session will again be done in virtual session. Mansfield City Council has not met in person since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public can view committee meetings, caucus and council on the livestream on the City of Mansfield's Facebook page or the city's website.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"