Rockford Park District
Helping People Enjoy Life!


Continued Revenue Shortfall Results in Rockford Park District Reducing Services for 2018


ROCKFORD, IL – The Rockford Park District began in 1909, and was built through the generosity of its citizens, strategic partnerships, and dedicated team members. Even during the recession, the District has been able to consistently provide outstanding park and recreational offerings to the community.

“A vibrant park system increases property values, decreases juvenile crime, provides health and wellness opportunities, improves the environment, and often employs thousands of area youth for the very first time. With declining revenue both through fees and a declining tax base, along with population and demographic shifts, it is becoming extremely difficult to provide the same level of service without an increase in new revenue or a decrease in our footprint. With a $1 million deficit this year, and $8.4 million in past budget reductions, we are at the point where unfortunately, we can’t continue to sustain all aspects of District operations, and have no choice but to make tough yet strategic decisions regarding recreational opportunities,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine.

Tonight, the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners gave the overall direction to hold the line on taxes and maintain the 2017 tax levy, meaning the District will likely not receive any additional tax dollars in its operating funds. For the past three years, the District elected not to increase tax dollars for its operating budget. After several years of continued decline in the District’s Equalized Assessed Value (EAV), the District is experiencing a slight uptick. Those historical declines created reductions in revenue of $328,885 in the Police Fund, $458,632 in the Museum Fund, and $262,075 in the Therapeutic Recreation Fund from 2011 through 2015. This resulted in more than $1,049,000 in reductions of services/programs to achieve balanced budgets. The state of Illinois has also indicated a reduction of roughly $300,000 in replacement taxes. A final decision regarding the 2017 tax levy will be made at the December 12, 2017 meeting.

The Board also received another update regarding the 2018 proposed budget. To plan for the 2018 budget season, the Rockford Park District analyzed local recreation and community trends, and outlined a variety of successes and challenges facing the District. To achieve a balanced budget, the District has continued to seek non-tax revenue, further reduce expenses, increase donor support, and explore lease and sale of land or property. To eliminate a $1 million deficit, the District has incorporated a variety of reductions in programs and services, along with a variety of revenue and expense adjustments. The 2018 preliminary budget includes the following:

Modification of Programs and Services

  • Not operating Forest City Queen and Trolley Car 36 (summer operations)
  • Closing Sand Park Pool
  • Closing Harkins Aquatic Center two weeks earlier
  • Reduction of one week of the free Music in the Park Summer Concert Series (8 weeks vs. 9 weeks)
  • Elimination of indoor swimming lessons
  • Elimination of one youth day camp called Summer Blast
  • Expanding hours of operation at Washington Park Community Center to invest in area youth
  • Increased support for Rockford Park District Police

Revenue Adjustments

  • Video gaming at select locations
  • Select pricing increases in programs and rental opportunities
  • Increased Foundation support

Expense Reductions

  • Elimination of four open full-time positions by attrition and restructuring. Since 2009, full-time positions have been reduced by 10% while adding more than 20 parks, playgrounds, parking areas, paths, or new recreational amenities such as Alpine Hills Adventure Park, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Mercyhealth Sportscore Two expansion, Olson Swedish Heritage Park, UW Health Sports Factory, and a Food and Beverage department
  • Elimination of event support for community partner events
  • Elimination of support to community centers for ground maintenance; reduction in contractual mowing
  • Savings from lower utility, gas, and health insurance costs

The following are also impacting the District’s budget:

  • Aging infrastructure – The District was formed in 1909, and currently has deferred maintenance needs totaling $12 million. Annually, approximately $3 million is available to address capital needs, including 62 playgrounds that are beyond their 15-year lifecycle, and removal of 2,000 ash trees.
  • Fee Revenue - Fee revenue has declined drastically over the last 10 years. For example, facilities such as Magic Waters Waterpark and the District’s five golf courses used to be major revenue generators for the District, but due to changing demographics and recreation trends, this is no longer the case.
  • Sports tourism economic impact – Sports tourism brings $30 million in economic impact to the community, but these are not profit generating operations for the District. District sports facilities are subsidized due to operational expenses such as staffing, maintenance, parking, and security, all while keeping tournament fees low and competitive.
  • Public sector collaboration – The District is partnering with the City of Loves Park, the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, and Rockford Public Schools, among others, to standardize public sector spending. These governmental entities are reviewing joint purchasing, equipment sharing, and ways to align bids to save tax dollars.

Rockford Park District’s Board of Commissioners and Executive Director Jay Sandine discussed and are proceeding with a community involved Master Plan. A master plan would complement the District’s annual Strategic Plan, and provide a series of recommendations that will help guide investment in District assets, along with decisions regarding obsolete, underutilized, or non-trending parks, facilities, and amenities. A master plan will provide an opportunity for the District to engage and inform the community on the true value of parks and recreation, receive critical feedback to determine priorities of park services, and ensure the District’s plan aligns with the vision of other community leaders and organizations. A final master plan is expected to be presented to the community in the summer of 2018.

Formal approval of the 2018 budget will take place at the January 16, 2018 board meeting.

Mike Costello