MANSFIELD -- The Mansfield City Council parks committee has scheduled a meeting Jan. 7 to discuss transferring ownership of nine city parks to the Richland County Land Bank.
New 2nd Ward Council representative Cheryl Meier, chair of the parks committee, scheduled the meeting for 6:35 p.m. in council chambers. It's the first scheduled council meeting of 2020.
Mark Abrams, the city's parks and recreation department manager, discussed the transfer idea with Land Bank representatives on Dec. 18, a move that will require council approval.
Abrams reportedly told Land Bank members his staff cannot continue to handle upkeep and maintenance for more than 30 city parks.
It's also a proposal that apparently came as news to at least some council members, who are waiting for the city administration to unveil its "master plan" for the city's parks system.
The city administration has been working on a master plan since late summer for the overall city park system that officials had hoped to have done by the end of the year. That plan has not been presented to council.
Jean Taddie, a member of the parks committee and the 6th Ward representative, told Richland Source on Friday she learned of the idea after the Land Bank meeting when she read published reports.
In a Dec. 20 email to Abrams, Mayor Tim Theaker and Public Works Director Dave Remy, Taddie asked that council "be on the front edge of information so we can plan and respond accordingly."
Taddie wrote, "Furthermore, shouldn't this divestiture be assessed after the parks master plan has been released and discussed? ... It would be hard for me to vote on this divestiture request until the master plan has been released. Furthermore, the public should have ample opportunity to weigh in on the proposal."
In his same-day response, Remy wrote that the city administration has had conversations with the Land Bank about taking over some of the parks, especially park parcels that are small lots and/or little used lots.
"However, from my end, I have made it abundantly clear that the divestiture of park land will require the approval (of) city council," Remy wrote, adding he would suggest the Jan. 7 parks committee meeting.
"As for the master plan itself, it still remains in a draft form," Remy wrote. "We have had discussions with the drafters of it and are scheduled to supply our final input from an administrative standpoint the middle part of January with meeting being scheduled to review with council in February-March," Remy wrote.
Meier said she discussed the plan with Land Bank officials on Monday, five days after the Dec. 18 meeting.
"The master plan has not been shared with any of the council members, to my knowledge," Meier said Friday. "I can’t speak yet to whether the transfer of parks is part of that plan."
One of the planned properties is the Linden Pool, which would be demolished using PRIDE funds. The properties are subject to potential redevelopment if the Land Bank secures new owners.
The nine parks are:
-- Betzstone Park
-- Dewey/Vine Park
-- Hamilton Park
-- Harvard Park
-- Julia Underhill Park
-- Linden Pool
-- Linden Circle Park
-- Newman Park
-- Sherman Estates Park
Most of these parks are small, though Hamilton Park has 24 acres, primarily baseball/softball fields.
Funding for the city parks comes from the PRIDE tax, first approved by voters in 2014 and renewed in 2017. 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.
The tax generates about $816,000 annually for the parks system, which was closed for four years when the City of Mansfield went into state-ordered fiscal emergency in 2009. The city emerged from the emergency in 2014.