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Rockford Park District feeling burden of closures during pandemic

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ROCKFORD (WREX) - The Rockford Park District has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and it is writing a new manual on how to deal with an unprecedented situation.

"The first time in our organization's 111-year history, we've been closed."

Executive director Jay Sandine says the Park District is already in a difficult position.

"Financially challenged with our limited revenue streams. I think this is the sixth year in a row we haven't increased property taxes for our operations."

That means they've had to find other avenues to make up the difference.

"With our expense increases like minimum wage and others, it's easy to understand that we have a deficit every year, we continue to cut and come up with creative new revenues."

Now those revenue streams have been shut off by the coronavirus pandemic. The extension of federal social distancing guidelines is another blow.

"If we remain closed through the end of April, that's about a half a million dollars in fee revenues we'll have to make up."

On top of city-wide facility closures, a big part of the local workforce isn't working.

"We've got 300 team members that aren't working right now. That's very difficult to talk about that and understand that."

For now, RPD employees are on social media offering families new ways to keep their kids engaged. Still, in a time of social distancing, Sandine says the community realizes the Park District's presence is not to be taken for granted. He is optimistic for brighter days ahead.

"When we open back up, I think people will be excited to get out and enjoy their life. Without that quality of life, it's hard to remain cooped up in your house for a long period of time. But we'll get through this as a park district, and we'll get through this as a community and be better."

It's a new chapter in the Park District's history - one the organization hopes is a short one.

Dan Cohen

Sports Reporter

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