By Jane Smith
Special to the Tribune
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
Although the Crawford County Board of Commissioners agrees that the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park was “irresponsible” by not insuring the Beach Club prior to the Aug. 1 fire that destroyed it, the commissioners have yet to formally address the matter.
Speaking at a special forum sponsored by The Meadville Tribune at Vernon Township Municipal Building on Monday, commissioners said they were surprised to learn the Trustees had no fire insurance on the Beach Club.
“It’s dag gone poor management,” said Commissioner C. Sherman Allen, noting the Trustees are stewards of the park for northwestern Pennsylvania and “something ought to be done.” He added there is “no transparency,” and nobody knows what is going on.
“I don’t know what to make of the situation,” Commissioner Jack Lynch said. “The situation at the park is hard to fathom,” he said, adding that any business enterprise “has to have basic coverage.”
“It’s certainly sad,” said Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr., calling it “irresponsible” for a business not to “insure assets.”
Lynch said if insurance was not affordable then the facility shouldn’t be open, noting those with fiduciary responsibility must preserve those assets.
All three agreed they had not made personal contact with the state’s attorney general’s office — which has monitoring responsibility for the public trust — but said they were aware that continued communications with the AG’s office have been made by others.
They also agreed that anybody has the right to pay the roughly $900,000 the park owes in taxes right up to the time of the 2014 Crawford County Tax Claim Bureau sale for unpaid delinquent real estate taxes. Paying off the taxes would prevent the properties from being sold.
Lynch said he doesn’t believe county commissioners should be involved in issues between those lessees and lessors, noting it is a private corporation. “I don’t think the role (of commissioners) is to intercede,” he said.
“We have set the ball in motion,” Lynch said about the tax claim sale. He added that commissioners have asked the Trustees for a payment plan for several years and that has not happened.
Allen noted that the Trustees must pay more than $1,000 a year on a $900,000 debt, referring to the fact Trustees have been paying only $1,000 a year on their real estate property taxes.
The trio noted that much of the nearly $900,000 debt is because of penalties and interest, but that is all considered as debt owed to the county’s tax claim bureau, which collects delinquent taxes on behalf of the municipalities, school districts and the county.
Asked why the county had not pursued a tax claim sale in the past, Allen said it was his understanding that some commissioners didn’t want to be the ones who were the downfall of Conneaut Lake Park.
Lynch said that the park was protected from a sale when it was under court supervision but agreed that “nobody wanted to be the bad guy,” referring to the possibility of closing the more-than-a-century old amusement park.
Weiderspahn said commissioners have tried to work with the Trustees the same as they do with other property owners to come up with a payment plan.
Lynch noted the high value of the real estate in that area, saying it is one of the highest per square foot in the county.
The forum with the Crawford County Board of Commissioners on Monday at the Vernon Township Municipal Building hosted by The Meadville Tribune was taped by Armstrong cable and will air on Channel 23 on Friday at 3:30 and 8:45 p.m., Saturday at 6:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. It is also available for free through Armstrong’s Video On Demand service.