Park district cut tax levy 5% in 2012 : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Park district cut tax levy 5% in 2012 |
|Agency officials also strove to maintain, improve programs, facilities |
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
An advisory referendum passed by Kendall County voters in November asked every county taxing body to reduce its property tax levy for the coming year by 20 percent.
Not one agency was able to do that, but the Oswegoland Park District did approve a new property tax levy last month that included a five percent cut.
According to Bob Mattingly, park board president, the agency was the only one to reduce its levy.
Mattingly, however, said the five percent reduction in the property tax levy could have an adverse effect on the agency in the future because they will not be able to recoup the funds at a later date.
"We could have raised the levy by $160,000, but we cut it by $275,000. That's more than $400,000 that we don't have and won't have every year from now on. That's more than $4 million over ten years," he said.
"That's going to really impact us in the future. Every other taxing body either left their levy at it was or raised it," he said.
Looking back over the past year, Mattingly said it was a good one for the agency, which serves most of northeast Kendall County, including all of the Village of Oswego and sections of the villages of Montgomery and Plainfield.
A surprise to many park district officials and observers was the resignation of Len Wass as a park board member two weeks ago. Wass was elected to a six year term on the board in April of 2011 and still had more than four years remaining on his term.
From the time he was sworn in Wass tried to get the board to reduce its expenses and cut its property tax levy.
More recently, Wass had criticized his board colleagues for checking his property taxes after Mattingly learned that Wass had listed property in LaSalle County as his primary residence even though he voted and lived in Oswego.
As a result of this situation, Wass submitted his resignation and again criticized the board for not cutting its levy by 20 percent as he said he showed could be done.
As of the present date, it has not yet been decided how the remaining four years of Wass' term will be filled.
But on the brighter side, Rich Zielke, assistant director, was named director of the district in July to replace Bill McAdam who had left the district in April to accept a like position with the Downers Grove Park District.
Zielke noted that the down economy has affected the district but added that their revenue has remained fairly steady.
"One thing we have noticed is that people are waiting until the last minute to register for programs. They're holding on to their money a little bit longer, not knowing what's around the corner," he said.
In the past, many people signed up for multiple programs early, he added.
He said income from developer land-cash payments is almost non-existent but this has been the case since the housing bubble burst several years ago.
As economy soured,
program sign-ups rose
Zielke said they saw an increase in participation of district programs when the economy started to tighten up a while back. He said some of this was because patrons were leaving the more expensive private gyms and other facilities. This has been good for the district he said because patrons see the quality programs the district offered and stay with it.
"We're not cheap. We have great instructors and we put on quality programs," Zielke said.
Of course, the trails and parks are free so they are used constantly by people of all ages. The ball fields and other outdoor recreational facilities are also quite popular, Zielke said.
"It's two-fold. The down economy brought some people our way and the quality we offer attracted others," he added.
Mattingly noted that they had an excellent year at the Fox Bend Golf Course.
"For one thing we had no floods forcing us to shut down-for the first time in four or five years. And, second, Brad Doyle, general manager and his staff did a great job of marketing this year as well as setting the right prices with special deals for players. This seems to draw more golfers," he said.
The past two years they lost money, but this year was good because of the specials they offered golfers, Mattingly said.
The number of paid rounds was up by about 5,000 which brought in about nine percent more in greens fees, he said.
Zielke said they saw an increase in the number of participants in gymnastics, adding that this is usually the case during an Olympic year. Plus some new participants came from the private clubs he added.
Participation in the summer programs was up and enrollment in the Kids' Connection after school programs for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, is up to the 2008 levels, he said.
"'This is a good thing because it means more parents are working, so there is need for this program. When only one parent out of two is working, they usually don't need us," he said.
Even the adult programs are seeing increased participation, part of which is because of the new ball fields at Prairie Point Park. These facilities have attracted the softball leagues, he said.
Mattingly noted that the purchase of the 83-acre Prairie Point property and building in 1990 or 1991 at Grove and Plainfield Roads, was one of the district's best investments. It has been developed over the years into an area that provides space and activities for people of all ages. And it is used on a daily basis throughout the year.
Mattingly often recites a quote of the late W.L. "Les" McCullough, founder of the Fox Valley Park District in 1947, who said "Buy all the land you can now because they ain't making no more."
Zielke said there has been a drop in youth basketball because of traveling teams. The district's programs are more to introduce youths to the sport, he said.
"If you're looking for competitive play you need to find a private program," Mattingly said.
But there have been increases in the adult sports programs, and outdoor recreation programs. This includes the hiking and biking trails. Canoeing on the Fox River, also is popular when water levels are high enough, he said.
The Road Warrior program has become popular he said. This is a day camp for older youths, or teenagers. This program includes programs at Prairie Point as well as field trips during the week.
This can be a difficult group to keep interested because once they hit high school and get their driver's license, they are interested in working, he said.
Mattingly said these programs will become more important in Oswego as high school enrollments grow.
"When you get to 3,000 students in a high school, there are only so many openings for kids to join sports teams, plays, and other events, so they need other outlets for their time," he said.
Mattingly, who has been in education for years, said he has seen proof of this in the Waubonsie Valley and Nequa Valley high schools of the Indian Prairie School District.
"I've seen very talented kids at these two schools walking halls looking for things to do. There are so many students that don't make the teams, or the choirs, or plays because there are too many kids in the schools," he said.
The Oswego School District Board in 2011 voted not to build a third high school and instead voted to add 600 students to each of the two high schools to give each a maximum enrollment of 3,000 students.
"I think it's important for us as a park district to give them some opportunities to participate in sports and recreational activities," he said.
The district is always working to grant requests of patrons, Zielke said. They have added art and science classes to the As We Grow Preschool so the After Lunch Bunch can stay longer. They have added new Sunday times for fitness and gymnastics at South Point.
"A sport that is really growing is boys and girls Lacrosse," Mattingly said.
Zielke said they also have new softball leagues this year and provided research and training for preschool instructors on "developmentally appropriate practice."
Zielke said they continue to update existing programs as well as feature new ones each season in their catalog.
There have been some cuts to keep costs down. Zielke said they are always looking to get the most use possible out of their equipment. "We try to do more with less," he said, adding that oftentimes they don't purchase t-shirts and similar items for program participants.
Mattingly and Zielke both said the new Splash Pad and lighted ball fields at Prairie Point were their biggest projects for the year. And they are hoping to get the parking lots paved in the near future, they said.
Zielke said PrairieFest was a success this year as it has been every year since it began nearly three decades ago. It takes place over Father's Day weekend and features a large variety of entertainment including top name bands.
The first ever "Brew at the Bridge" event held at Hudson Crossing Park in downtown Oswego in September was a huge success, Zielke said.
The playground in Hudson Crossing Park is in use constantly and the shelter is rented for picnics, wedding receptions and all types of event, Mattingly said
Most of the recreational programs are self-supporting with a few exceptions, Zielke said. The staff decides whether a program should be provided at no charge and it almost always is a program from which the benefits to participants outweigh any district cost, he said.
"Our goal is to find ways to save money without affecting the experience of the participants and to see that our program fees are affordable for our patrons, yet high enough to cover all district costs," he said.
Zielke said an additional expense they now have is to make everything in the district, including their website, accessible to all handicapped persons. This includes persons who are visually impaired or can't use a mouse or keyboard, Mattingly said.
So what's the goal for the coming year?
"We're going to continue to create opportunities for healthy communities to work to maintain our high levels of quality and service in spite of diminishing resources," Zielke said.