Mansfield City Council voted not to approve $500,000 for a project to extend the bike trail to Trimble Road, apparently unaware money was available from two other sources and the issue previously had been discussed.
The vote happened at Wednesday’s meeting. City administrators recommended committing $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to extend the Richland B&O Trail to Trimble Road at Akron Children’s Hospital.
At-large Councilman Phil Scott suggested pulling the money, noting there were a number of other necessary projects within the city parks system.
At-large Councilwoman Stephanie Zader agreed.
“Taking care of current needs is important,” she said. “I think it (ARPA funding) should be the best use of the money.”
Council voted 8-0 to pull the funding.
State contributing $150K to bike trail extension
In June, state Rep. Marilyn John announced the state would contribute $150,000 to the project. County commissioners also have come up with a way to help.
“These monies were being leveraged to obtain the balance needed from other sources,” Council President David Falquette said in an email sent out to council members. “The city needs to show a financial interest to leverage funds.”
Falquette votes only in the case of a tie. He added a conservancy developing land in this area is expecting the extension to make the trail more accessible to everyone.
“This ‘Walkable Mansfield’ project is part of a master plan to connect downtown with outer areas, including the bike trail at several entrances,” Falquette said in his email. “This master plan was presented by Mr. (City Engineer Bobby) Bianchi and warmly accepted by council.
“The 10-foot walkway from the Woodland Reservoir down to Cook to Trimble towards Millsboro was all part of this plan. Please consider bringing this back as the rejection is seen as a rejection of all funds from these sources.”
He elaborated by phone Friday about the importance of the funding.
“One of the core precepts of ARPA is we’re giving you this money. How about making some more money?” Falquette said.
Council members support bringing issue back for another vote
At least two council members sent out emails Friday saying they would support voting another time.
“This ‘Walkable Mansfield’ project is a lot more intricate and greater than I even understood, now that I know more about it,” Councilman Aurelio Diaz said in an email to council and media. “With that said, I regret voting the way that I did on Tuesday because I didn’t realize how this could impact something that’s been in the planning process for so long.
“I, too, would like to see this brought back to council.”
“You know what would have been fantastic? If the administration had shared this information with us, so we could make a proper decision,” she said in an email. “As discussed in council, it’s hard to make proper decisions without the facts.”
The bike trail extension is part of Mansfield Rising, a comprehensive plan to prioritize projects to improve the downtown.
“Bobby (Bianchi) has talked about it a number of times,” Mayor Tim Theaker told the News Journal by phone Friday morning, echoing Falquette’s thoughts.
Theaker spoke briefly about the bike trail when he addressed council about doling out ARPA funding.
He said Friday he was unaware of the commissioners’ plan when he addressed council.
“That’s not affirmed,” he told the News Journal on Friday, referencing money coming from the county. “I do not and cannot speak for the county. That’s one thing that I could not say (Wednesday) night.”
Commissioners have plan to help with funding
Commissioner Tony Vero gave an update by phone Friday morning.
“We didn’t formally approve it yet,” Vero said. “We had money set aside for the project. Tim (Theaker) never called us as to how we were going to do so.”
“It was their project,” he said of city leaders.
Vero shared the details Friday.
The commissioner said he met with county Administrator Andrew Keller and county Auditor Pat Dropsey to come up with a funding mechanism.
Noting the city pays money to the county to house inmates at the county jail, Vero said the proposal will be for the city to forego $500,000 in those payments to free up $1 million for the bike trail extension.
“We would backfill the loss of revenue from our jail fund with Rescue Plan Act money,” Vero said.
To avoid any further confusion, Vero said fellow Commissioner Cliff Mears would invite Theaker and Councilwoman Cheryl Meier to their Tuesday meeting.
“All parties involved feel this is good for the community,” Vero said. “This is still on.”