GPD Answers to Budget Commission, Public
March 16, 2023 by Amy Patterson

It’s been several weeks of starts and stalls, but Geauga Park District representatives finally appeared before the Geauga County Budget Commission March 13 to field questions.

It’s been several weeks of starts and stalls, but Geauga Park District representatives finally appeared before the Geauga County Budget Commission March 13 to field questions.

The special meeting came on the heels of two previously scheduled meetings —  one on Feb. 22, at which GPD was a no-show, and the second on March 6, which was rescheduled due to GPD’s legal counsel not being available that day.

GPD Executive Director John Oros emailed the three members of the commission — Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder, County Treasurer Chris Hitchcock and Prosecutor Jim Flaiz — GPD Commissioner Howard Bates and Fiscal Officer Dawn Sweeney the afternoon of March 3 with several questions about the budget process.

“(Oros) quotes some numbers from the (Government Finance Officers Association) best practices documents and asks if we agree, and then he asks for advice regarding appropriating funds over multiple years,” Walder said of the email.

The exchange had taken place as described, Oros confirmed in an email.

“Our intent with providing the commission with our latest round of questions prior to the next meeting (was) to have a starting point for discussion,” he said.

Because the GPD currently has an appeal filed before the tax commission, Walder said he told Oros any conversation should take place in the presence of GPD’s legal counsel.

However, Oros replied over the weekend that GPD legal counsel would not be available on Monday and asked to have their appearance before the commission once again rescheduled.

Flaiz pointed out Oros’ attempt to open a private dialogue via email with the three members of the commission was inappropriate due to laws regarding open meetings.

“We don’t do business on Saturday, anyway,” Hitchcock said.

Walder said this was another point to bring to GPD’s attention. The park district had previously made similar last-minute requests prior to a Monday meeting.

“And then they act like, ‘Oh, (the budget commission) ambushed us,’” Flaiz said.

The commission must meet as a group to make decisions and could not make decisions — including whether to postpone or change a meeting — via email, Walder said.

“Nor can we, legally, because this meeting is public,” Hitchcock said. “How do we publish an email response?”

Walder said he couldn’t get answers to Oros’ questions between Friday at 4 p.m. and Monday at 10 a.m., which is why he responded to the email.

“Well, and any two of us can’t discuss any of their questions unless we’re in a public meeting. I don’t know why that concept is so hard for them — they’re supposedly supposed to be running a public body,” Flaiz said.


During the March 13 meeting, Deputy Auditor Tammy Most said the GPD’s capital projects fund total is now $2,863,852, and the district’s appropriation certificate now totals $13,185,061.

Walder said a series of four amendments to their initial appropriation successfully righted their fiscal ship.

The auditor took the opportunity to give tips and feedback to Sweeney and Oros on the financial management of GPD.

His office issues “do exceed” certificates to entities it finds to have over-appropriated funds, although the law only requires the issuance of a certificate stating an entity’s appropriations do not exceed their funds, Walder said.

“We think it’s important because then we tell you at the bottom which funds did exceed,” he said. “So it kind of tells you — these funds you either need to de-appropriate, or certify revenue you’re anticipating in those funds and that rights the ship.”

During the March 6 meeting, Walder said GPD was on the right path, but did not understand they could meet their budget requirements by certifying funds that are expected but have not yet arrived.

“So, let’s say you’re thinking you’re going to get a grant for $2 million and it’s not going to come ‘til June. You can certify that in January,” he told Sweeney March 13. “It’s anticipated or in the process of being collected. Now, you can’t spend it because you don’t have it, right? But you can certify it and you can appropriate against it. You just can’t write the checks because you don’t have the money physically.”

Walder explained how entities can legally transfer money between funds to cover appropriations, telling Sweeney the process is all about cash management.

He said his concern is the GPD has appropriated over 90% of its resources — an amount he called “huge” for an enterprise with a $12 million budget.

“Because you’re going to need — I think in the last budget hearing, I estimated at least $2 million in carryover. That’s what you need just to survive for the first quarter,” he said.

The GPD did not receive any significant funds until the second quarter of the fiscal year, which he said leaves them to survive on what is carried over from the previous year.

“So (if) people are out buying cars and you’re paying salaries because you have to, but you’re buying a bunch of stuff, you’re gonna get into a cash crunch because you have to have that money to satisfy those obligations or you’re going to be writing checks you don’t have money for, which is not a good thing,” he said.

Walder said before the GPD split from county oversight in 2021, Deputy Auditor Ron Leyde managed appropriations for the district. However, since GPD separated from county oversight in 2021, that responsibility now falls on Sweeney.

Flaiz said the budget commission staff has a good relationship with Sweeney, who has been with the GPD for 10 years.

“I know the last couple fiscal officers, you know, didn’t have as nice as a disposition.  … I think that’s a nice way of putting it,” he said. “So I’m optimistic that (the relationship) will improve.”