The Columbus Dispatch

Metro Parks OKS 5% pay hike for top directors

$38M budget approved; 20th park set to open

- Mark Ferenchik

Four top officials at the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks are receiving 5% pay hikes as part of the 2022 budget, including Executive Director Tim Moloney, who will be making $158,658 annually and is also receiving a $10,000 bonus.

The Metro Parks Board of Commission­ers approved the pay hikes Monday morning, and adopted the 2022 budget, which projects $38 million in spending next year, up slightly from the $37.8 million the district expects to spend this year but 2.25% less than the $38.9 million budgeted for 2021. Moloney presided over a park district in 2021 that is experienci­ng its second-highest attendance year ever while still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and developing Quarry Trails Metro Park, which will open on Tuesday as the system’s 20th park.

The Dispatch reported earlier this year that the district for years leased a large stone house above a lake at Clear Creek Metro Park in Hocking Hills at what local real estate agents said were far-below market rates to groups of businesspe­ople, including Mark Wagenbrenn­er, principal and president of Thrive companies, which is developing the retail, apartments and residentia­l housing adjacent to Quarry Trails Metro Park.

The newspaper also revealed that Metro Parks was leasing several

houses it owned on park properties at below-market rates, including one to a current park ranger and one to a nowretired park supervisor.

In response, Moloney said he would begin bringing the district’s home and farm leases to the board for review.

In September, the Metro Parks board voted to demolish four houses the district was renting. The board also agreed that when Metro Parks acquires any structures when buying land for park space, it will dispose of them within six months either by a sale through a competitiv­e process or by tearing them down.

George Mccue, who leads the Metro Parks board, credited Moloney and the Metro Parks staff in dealing with the situation after The Dispatch brought it to light.

“They should have been brought to the board over the years,” Mccue said of the leases, but the board believed nothing the staff did over that time was improper.

Board members apparently also did not have an issue when Moloney gave permission to a former intern who is now an official with the Upper Arlington Parks & Recreation Department that Moloney once headed to rent the “round barn” at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park on Sept. 24 for a wedding and reception. The facility had never been made available previously for such use before.

Mccue said the managerial team excelled in dealing with the pandemic, keeping the parks open and staffed, as well as pursing resources from outside the 10-year, 0.95-mill levy Franklin

County property owners pay to finance the district.

Catherine Turcer, executive director of good government nonprofit Common Cause, said she hopes the board went through a long process in determinin­g the raises and bonuses.

“It’s well worth the public questionin­g, `Is this the right decision?’” Turcer said.

“One of the things we want, when any government­al entity makes a mistake, is we want to make sure there’s a process for figuring it out so it’s not repeated again,” she said, including incentiviz­ing doing things the right way.

“These are not small salaries,” she said.

The other top director salaries for 2022 are as follows:

• Deputy Director Larry Peck: $154,939 ($7,500 bonus)

• Finance Director Rick Mcgivern:

$118,078 ($5,000 bonus)

• Human Resources Director Renee Telfer: $115,714 ($5,000 bonus)

As for the 2022 budget, Metro Parks plans to spend close to $12.4 million in capital improvemen­ts, including $3 million for future land acquisitio­n, and another $2.5 million on Quarry Trails for a climbing and rappelling area, a sledding hill, a dog park, a park office and maintenanc­e complex, and utilities. The park is north of Trabue Road, east of Dublin Road and west of the Scioto River.

The district also plans to spend $1 million in improvemen­ts at Homestead Metro Park in Hilliard, including upgraded trails, a redesigned play area, a better connection to the Heritage Trail, and a new shelter and restroom. It plans to spend another $600,000 to upgrade playground­s at Sharon Woods, Battelle Darby Creek and Three Creeks Metro Park.

And Metro Parks also has budgeted $1 million to improve the old Hoover Y Park in southeaste­rn Franklin County to renovate and remove buildings, develops trails, upgrade restrooms and make other improvemen­ts.

Moloney told the board on Monday that he sees Metro Parks using the Hoover Y site for community gatherings and festivals, maybe even a 5K run, and other special events.

The district also plans to spend $240,000 on improvemen­ts to what it calls the Scioto South property, adjacent to the city of Columbus’ Heer Park on the South Side. Moloney said Metro Paks plans to work with city as Heer Park is redevelope­d.

In February, Columbus officials closed the park at 125 W. Williams Road because of vandalism, drug use and other problems. Advocates for the homeless population have served people in the parking lot.

The parks also will spend $50,000 to demolish the grandstand at the former Darby Dan Farm at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Parks while spending $50,000 on improvemen­ts to the “round barn” at the park.

Metro Parks officials are considerin­g renting out the round barn for more events. In September, The Dispatch wrote about Moloney giving permission to rent out the facility for a wedding for a former intern who worked for the Upper Arlington Parks & Recreation Department.

Meanwhile, the budget for salaries and benefits is set to increase $4.3% from the 2021 budgeted amount to $18.3 million. That reflects 3% pay hikes and other pay bumps so the disitrct can better compete for employees, according to Metro Parks. @Markferenc­hik

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 ?? DORAL CHENOWETH/DISPATCH ?? The commission will spend $2.5 million on Quarry Trails to include a climbing and rappelling area, a sledding hill and a dog park.
DORAL CHENOWETH/DISPATCH The commission will spend $2.5 million on Quarry Trails to include a climbing and rappelling area, a sledding hill and a dog park.

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