Meadville Tribune

April 17, 2014

Proposal would put Conneaut Lake Park into hands of revamped trustees group

By Jane Smith
Special to the Tribune

— Control of operations of Conneaut Lake Park may soon be turned over to a new board of trustees — comprised of members of the board of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County and members of the current Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County Executive Director Mark Turner submitted a proposal to the Trustees to create the new board and succeed the current board. The proposal would also allow the Economic Progress Alliance to take a plan to the county commissioners to pay off the more than $750,000 delinquent property taxes within the next four years and ultimately avoid the tax claim sale that is scheduled for September.

Jack Moyers, chairman of the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, said Wednesday evening that the Trustees are “very excited about resolving this matter and assisting and supporting the (Economic Progress Alliance) in a plan to ensure the park and the mission to the community are continued into perpetuity.

“At this point the Trustees are prepared to move forward with the arrangement pending the following issue being approved by the state attorney general’s office,” Moyers said.

The Trustees are concerned there may be a conflict of interest and do not feel comfortable agreeing to the Economic Progress Alliance’s proposal until receiving the state attorney general office’s approval, according to Moyers. Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General Eugene Herne is out of the office this week because of a funeral, Moyers said, so the Trustees are unsure of when they’ll receive a response from Herne.

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is a corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the park. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park has been in charge of the park since 2007.

The attorney general’s office filed suit in court months ago to possibly remove the Trustees, but no action has been taken. Evidence and testimonies are being gathered prior to the next court hearing.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, a total of $752,692.77 in overdue property taxes, interest and penalties was owed to the county, Summit and Sadsbury townships, and Conneaut School District by Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park — dating back to 1997, according to figures from the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

If no agreement is in place and no plan for payment of the delinquent real estate taxes is presented to the county commissioners, the park is scheduled to go up for a tax claim sale on Sept. 26.

Turner said he has been in contact with the state attorney general’s office, which he said is agreeable to the Economic Progress Alliance’s proposal. Moyers said he is not aware of any approval by the state attorney general’s office.

Turner said the Economic Progress Alliance board meets this morning to vote on whether the Economic Progress Alliance will leave the proposal on the table or to withdrawal its offer. Turner said agreements have been reached with the Trustees in the past two months. Then, changes to the proposal have been made by the Trustees.

The proposal would be to replace the Trustees board with a new seven-person board, four of which would be from the Economic Progress Alliance and three from the Trustees. Turner said the proposal is to “reorganize, revision and revitalize the park,” noting it would remain a public park.

The Economic Progress Alliance’s proposal would only be for “operational control” of the park — not ownership. He said typically the Economic Progress Alliance acquires the assets when assuming control of a property for revitalization. In this case, since the park is a public trust, that would not change.

The only change at Conneaut Lake Park would be the “leadership of the Trustees,” Turner said.

Turner said the proposal included a “very preliminary plan” for the new board to have the real estate taxes paid off in four years. Any Economic Progress Alliance plan for repayment of the taxes, however, cannot be presented without organizational control.

Crawford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. said Wednesday if the Economic Progress Alliance proposal is not approved by the Trustees, the commissioners cannot do anything about the situation. He said legally the commissioners can only accept a proposal for payment of the back taxes from the board in control of the park.

“If they (Trustees) reject it (the proposal), from the county commissioners’ viewpoint, they are not at the table,” Weiderspahn said of the Trustees, regarding delaying of the tax sale. “If they are not going to have a plan in place, I think this kills it (the proposal and postponing the tax sale). ... We can’t give (Economic Progress Alliance) authority to make an agreement on the back taxes. We can only make an agreement with the Trustees board. I hope they can come together.”

In March, Weiderspahn said Ted Watts, the county’s attorney, was consulting with Weiss Burkardt and Kramer LLC, the Pittsburgh law firm it hired, to see if the tax sale date may be pushed back to allow the annual Pumpkin Fest to take place at the park in October.

“Until I hear differently,” he said, the sale will continue as scheduled. “We don’t extend it (the date) for anyone else who is going to lose his home.

“The tax sale date is September,” Weiderspahn said. “I don’t feel we could postpone it.”