Meadville Tribune

Local News

July 2, 2014

Commissioners push back Conneaut Lake Park's sheriff's sale vote

In a change from plans announced at their work session Tuesday, Crawford County commissioners do not plan to vote today regarding a sheriff’s sale for Conneaut Lake Park.

The change in plans may go down as a minor victory for a group that met Wednesday at Conneaut Lake Park for a rally against the commissioners’ proposed vote.

“I don’t see how we can vote,” Francis Weiderspahn Jr., chairman of the commissioners, said late Wednesday afternoon, noting there are questions still to be answered. “I can’t vote for it; I don’t have all the answers (to various questions),” he said about the proposal to plan a sheriff’s sale of the park.

If county commissioners vote for a sheriff’s sale, they would be the fourth taxing body to support the sale of the amusement park to repay more than $900,000 in back real estate taxes and penalties owed to Conneaut School District, Crawford County and Sadsbury and Summit townships. The overdue taxes date as far back as 1997, according to the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

The governing boards of Conneaut School District and Summit and Sadsbury townships all went on record at their May meetings in support of a sheriff’s sale for Conneaut Lake Park. School and township officials said earlier this week they don’t expect to revisit the issue even though the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County came forth with a plan on June 17 to repay the county, school district and two townships within four years.

At their work session Tuesday, Crawford County commissioners said they anticipated taking a vote on proceeding with a sheriff’s sale of Conneaut Lake Park.

“I think we better all stick together,” Commissioner C. Sherman Allen said on Tuesday of the previous actions by the townships and school district. “It’s not going to be a win-win situation.”

The EPACC plan would use insurance proceeds and potential property sales as a way to repay the park’s taxes. The EPACC, the county’s lead economic development agency, was named as the administrator of Conneaut Lake Park on June 17 by the new Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the nonprofit public corporation that owns the amusement park.

Weiderspahn said the earliest the commissioners would vote on a sheriff’s sale is their July 17 meeting. That would mean a possible sheriff’s sale could not be scheduled until Oct. 18 at the earliest — after the annual Pumpkin Fest at Conneaut Lake Park.

Wednesday afternoon’s impromptu rally held at Conneaut Lake Park by supporters of the park included discussion of what could be done to convince the taxing bodies to accept the EPACC’s tax repayment plan and avoid a sheriff’s sale.

The rally was organized with only about an hour’s notice — given via social media and personal phone calls. Nearly 30 people showed up for the rally.

During the rally, plans were made for supporters to address the issue at today’s 9:30 a.m. commissioners meeting at the county courthouse. Also discussed was the creation of petitions seeking more time for the EPACC to work on the tax repayment plan and for people to picket the courthouse today to draw attention to the support for the park.

Juanita Hampton, executive director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, offered to make copies of the proposed picket signs to be carried at today’s commissioners meeting.

Leonard Adams of Adams Amusements, who operates the rides at the park, emphasized at Wednesday’s rally that those supporting the park should offer positive suggestions. He also said he had been in contact with the American Coasters Enthusiasts and the Greater Ohio Coasters Association to gather more support to avoid a sheriff’s sale.

Adams said he has already noticed some positive changes at the park since the EPACC took over a few weeks ago. The changes include painting, cleaning up debris, and more, Adams said.

Adams encouraged negotiations between the EPACC and the taxing bodies, saying, “Give them (EPACC) a chance — even give them 12 months to show you (their progress).” Saying that some unpaid taxes trace back to 1997, Adams asked, “What’s one more year?”

Hampton cited the economic benefit of the park remaining open, noting that two October events at the park — Pumpkin Fest with its 30,000 visitors and Ghost Lake haunted amusement with its 20,000 visitors — generate about $5.9 million annually in revenue for county businesses. That’s not to mention the money the park brings to the county during the summer, Hampton said.

Dennis Cascio, who moved to the Conneaut Lake area recently to help save the park, said there are only approximately 90 days to work to save the park if a sheriff’s sale is scheduled for October.

The consensus at the end of the nearly one-hour rally was that everyone should do all they can to help save the park from a possible sheriff’s sale. Suggestions included creating fundraising ideas and bringing public attention to the issue so the taxing bodies know they support the EPACC and its plan to improve the park.

The EPACC laid out plans at its most recent public meeting to transform Conneaut Lake Park into a year-round park with a performing arts center, exposition center and hotel with a rebuilt night club and midway. It’s estimated to have a total cost of $12 million to $15 million.

Although word that the commissioners wouldn’t vote for a sheriff’s sale today wasn’t known at Wednesday’s rally, Adams said upon finding out that news that the park supporters still plan to picket today at the courthouse.

“We want to make sure (they know) we’re not going away and we don’t want the park to go away,” Adams said.

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