Cut park district spending by 20 percent? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Cut park district spending by 20 percent? |
|Wass proposes goal; other board members say agency has cut|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Len Wass, an Oswegoland Park District Board member, told his board colleagues this past week he believes they should pass a resolution calling for a 20 percent reduction in the agency's expenses.
At an earlier board finance committee meeting, Wass suggested expenses be cut by 10 percent.
In proposing the 20 percent spending cut, Wass said he had been reading about property tax increases in the newspaper recently.
"All except one taxing body on my (property) tax bill went up," he said, adding, "The Village of Oswego sort of maintained its taxes, but all the others went up."
Board member Roy White, however, noted Oswego Township government's tax rate also remained unchanged from last year.
"In thinking about that, when we had our meeting on the budget, I was hopeful that by keeping the tax levy constant, we would have held the taxes constant," Wass said.
"But in the declining assessment base that we have, the only way for a taxing body to keep its taxes constant, or even lower them, is to reduce its costs. We know for a fact that the tax assessment is going to continue to be decreased over the next three years. So recognizing that, I think it's very important for us to try to reduce our costs," he said.
Wass asked the board to adopt a resolution to set--not as a mandatory target--but as a goal for the coming year, a 20 percent cost reduction.
"Whether we achieve that or not remains to be seen, but I think it would put us in the mindset of lowering costs with an eye toward at least holding taxes constant for taxpayers," he said.
White said they have done some work in cutting expenses at Fox Bend Golf Course, but Wass said his suggestion at a previous finance committee meeting was rejected.
"It was not rejected," White said.
White said the agency has eliminated the position of golf professional and restaurant manager at Fox Bend. In addition, he said the agency has left the position of executive director vacant since Bill McAdam left to begin work as executive director of the Downers Grove Park District.
"We're working on cutting. We're over $300,000 just on those (three) positions," White said.
Wass congratulated White for some cost reductions at the golf course, but said the park district is a bigger organization than just the golf course.
"What I'm suggesting is that we look at all functions," he said.
"Len, you're a commissioner-you can do that. We're waiting for your suggestion as to what we should do. You haven't suggested anything," White responded.
Board member Danielle Ebersole said they have been working to cut costs by combining positions.
"We lost Margaret (Gienger) and Linda Wilson retired after more than 30 years and she was in a highly paid position because of how long she had been with us," she said.
Ebersole said they have been working to lower costs.
"It shouldn't be a challenge. That's what we do when we're here," she said.
"I did this for 35 years and I'm an expert at it and we are not going about it in a well-organized way," Wass said. "The staff are the ones who should be implementing this, but I'd be very happy to work with Rich (Zielke, interim executive director), if the board would approve such a goal which we may or may not achieve.
"But at least we should set the goal and then start looking in a systematic way because in these kinds of efforts you might find what we used to call elephants like a big salary that we no longer need," he said.
He added that true cost reductions come from making a lot of small reductions that add up. Wass said he would add his expertise, but not do management's job.
Ebersole said McAdam told his staff to work on lowering their budgets, "This isn't something new like you're the savior and you're going to save everything. We've been working on it for the last three to four years--ever since we knew the money crunch was going to happen."
She said they have told employees and department heads to lower their costs and stay within the money they had to work with.
"The inescapable fact is that we set the same levy as the previous year and it resulted in higher taxes because of declining assessments," Wass said.
Bob Mattingly, board president, explained that a problem with the state's tax cap is that once a taxing body lowers its levy it can never regain those lost funds
"And unfortunately that puts all public bodies in a bind. I would love to see changes in the legislation. That would help us do a better job," he said.
Mattingly added that the park district portion of his tax bill went up $5, while Wass said his went up much more.
White mentioned that his bill went up $75, adding that he owns several buildings.
White said the district has been working to cut costs and saved more than $6,500 in two years through changes in the purchasing practices plus $2,700 savings in gas and electric.
"So you can't say we're not doing anything. We certainly have," he added.
Wass proposed they pass a resolution to cut costs by 20 percent and that they reunite their effort.
"It needs to become part of the culture," he added.
Mattingly noted that Wass had mentioned cutting costs by 10 percent at the previous finance committee meeting.
"I said at the time that it could be achievable and now you're raising it to 20 percent," White said.
Deb Krase, board vice president, said they have made cuts in the budget every year for the past three years.
"It sounds to me like the board is happy with the expenditures and tax consequences, but I'm not," Wass added.
White said he is not satisfied with what they've done.
"But we don't need to have you sit there and say you should do this and that. Where are you? What have you come up with? What ideas?" he asked.
Wass said he had offered to help, but Mattingly said board members should not be micromanaging.
Zielke mentioned that the staff always shopped for the best price when making purchases. But he added that recreation is a big part of the budget and said it's difficult to guess how many people will be participating in all the agency's programs.
"We may budget for 200 kids and register 400. Our revenue will increase but so will our expenses," he said.
Wass said people are being forced out of the community because they cannot pay their property taxes. He noted that the school district is two-thirds of the tax bill but said the park district adds to the other one third of the problem.
Mattingly said the majority of the tax revenue-about 85 percent--comes from residential property and it should be only about 60 percent. He said the community does not have enough commercial and manufacturing property paying taxes.
Wass said the large number of foreclosures on homes also is hurting the tax base.
Mattingly added that he would not feel comfortable imposing a 10 or 20 percent cut on the staff
"They are aware of the trustees thoughts on watching the budget," he said.