ROCKFORD (WREX) — As the Rockford Park District turns its attention to its 2020 budget, it’s staring down a $1.2 million dollar deficit. But there are some recommendations the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners will consider to bring that deficit down.
Executive Director Jay Sandine says those recommendations include permanent closure of Sinnissippi Golf Course, suspension of operations of Snow Park at Alpine Hills, and suspension of operations at Alpine Pool.
Sandine says the park district wants to make sure the community understands its voice and wishes are being carefully considered by the board.
“When you talk about the potential closure of something like the Sinnissippi Golf Course we don’t want to drop that on the community in October or November right before the budget is approved. The Park District is a very transparent organization, we always have been. Tonight we just wanted to get the discussion going with our community. Unforutnately we’re used to this time of year when we try and figure out how we’re going to get to zero. So tonight we wanted to really wanted to start talking about some of the heavier items that we’re starting to look at.”
In 2018 the park district received feedback from the community on the top priorities it wanted to see moving forward. Citizens deemds neighborhood parks, playgrounds, youth programs, Washington Park Community Center, trails, along with arts and cultural programming as top priorities.
Sandine says that feedback also included residents wanting less of their tax dollars going to golf courses. Sandine says this mixed with the over saturation of golf courses in the area is why the recommendation is to completely close Sinnissippi. Meanwhile, people expressed a desire to keep programming like swimming and family activities. Sandine says this is why the recommendation is only a suspension at both Alpine Hills and Alpine Pool.
In addition to the $1.2 million deficit, the park district is also struggling to figure out how it’s going to deal with the state mandated raise in minimum wage.
“We have upwards of close to a thousand team members that are in that minimum wage category,” says Sandine. “So when you apply the minimum wage law that’s a $2 million wage law for the park district over the next five years with no state revenue to support and help offest that. So it’s a huge impact for us.”
“When you start paying your lowest paid employees $15 an hour you create internal wage compression where they are bumping up against the employees who were previously hired,” says board president Ian Linnabary. “You have to address those wage compression issues and that creates additional budgetary stresses.”
The park district can only rely on revenue from the property tax levy along with program fees for its revenue. Over the past five years the board has voted to hold the line on its property tax levy.
A final decision about these recommendations along with the tax levy will be made by board members at the November 19th meeting.