STOW – City Council members April 9 wanted to eliminate a matching $75,000 fund for a new park but will wait for three readings before voting.

The previous city council had passed legislation matching $75,000 for a park on the City Center grounds to replace the SKiP Park.

"When council passed this [legislation] we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic," said council president Sindi Harrison. "We don’t know how that’s going to impact us as a city."

Harrison said the city needs the funds for other things, and they can revisit the park and matching funds.

"We won’t have the $75,000 [to match] for that fund," Harrison said.

Council member Cyle Feldman said he was bothered by the timing of the legislation and said the fund should be reviewed by the newly created 2020 Budget Oversight Committee.

"Residents are dealing with a lot at this time with schools, storms and with hope," Feldman said. "I didn’t like the timing. I thought there would be a little more discussion with the Budget Oversight Committee."

Council member Steve Hailer agreed that the plans for a park weren’t going anywhere and didn’t think the legislation needed to be voted on that night.

"Tonight’s meeting should be more focused on the problems at hand and give the oversight committee time to look at everything," Hailer said. "This is being addressed as an emergency ordinance."

Hailer, who is chair of the oversight committee, said there weren’t any plans for the money’s use in the near future and so it didn’t matter when they addressed legislation.

"I would hate to see this used as an emergency ordinance," Hailer said. "I think that it would be a mistake."

Hailer said council should look at issues that have nothing to do with the pandemic but they need to hear from the public.

"I’d hate to rule on this without hearing from the community," Hailer said. "I’m looking at this about how it looks from the outside."

Council member Christina Shaw agreed that it was not a good time and constituents had reached out to her about rushing legislation without any input from residents.

Council member Jeremy McIntire supported the legislation and said council could revisit it. He said council members received a two-page letter about significant reductions in funds.

The city needs to get through the pandemic and provide the city with basic services for this year, McIntire said.

"This is council being proactive," McIntire said. "The $75,000 will be needed elsewhere, not to build SKiP park. We have to be sure we maintain what we’ve got before we move on it."

McIntire said the fundraiser for the $75,000 the city would match has been in place for more than a year and the project hasn’t been presented to council.

"There have been a lot of questions asked about this committee and money raised," McIntire said. "It’s not prudent of the city to match funds for a park we haven’t seen plans for."

Hailer said he wanted a presentation from the city before any decision.

Parks and Recreation Director Linda Nahrstedt on March 12 presented a two-sided flier summarizing the findings of the Stow City Center Play For All Project and some of the ideas the community preferred. A meeting was planned with the Art Commission April 7 but was canceled because of the coronavirus.

Hailer said with the pandemic how was the city going to pay for a splashpad and ongoing costs, but he wanted the funds to be discussed by the 2020 Oversight Committee. He was against passing the legislation on an emergency basis.

"I wouldn’t approve this money, but I just think it should be part of a whole package," Hailer said. "Give this thing a chance for public feedback and explain ourselves."

McIntire said the emergency clause is so that once signed by the mayor, it goes into effect immediately instead of the usual wait of 30 days later.

Harrison said any ordinance can have readings suspended and voted on.

"There’s an emotional component to what is going on now," Hailer said. "I’m uncomfortable with the timing. If we want to have it on a three-reading basis that gives us feedback from the community."

"We could reduce 25 percent to 30 percent of our budget," Hailer said. "There’s no way we would spend $75,000 on a park but how we get there is important. The process is important."

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com