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Repositioning the Rockford Park District to Meet Communities’ Priorities and Help Reduce Yearly Deficit

NEWS RELEASE

ROCKFORD, IL – The Rockford Park District is repositioning itself for the future in order to remain a vibrant and relevant park system, and to work toward meeting all priorities established by the Board and citizens served.

Feedback received from community engagement conducted in 2018 continues to direct allocation of funds to support areas that citizens deemed top priorities, such as neighborhood parks, playgrounds, youth programs, Washington Park Community Center, and trails, along with arts and cultural programming.

Community feedback also guided the District’s 2019 – 2023 strategic plan, which includes areas to reinvest in, strategically add, eliminate, suspend, or reduce. Progress made so far this year includes:

  • Leasing Magic Waters Waterpark to Six Flags Entertainment Corporation

  • Selling District’s former administration building in Sinnissippi Park

  • Leasing train station on 7th Street

  • Completing Phase 1 of Atwood Silent Sports Trails and The Landing skatepark in downtown Rockford, thanks to private donations

The Park District is also reinvesting in Skybox, a place to eat, drink, and play inside the Indoor Sports Center (ISC) at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two. Skybox will be home to four multi-sport simulators as well. In November, a new short game putting area will also be added to ISC to enhance the indoor driving range and lesson opportunities during the winter months. Citizens can track progress being made on revised priorities based on community feedback at www.rockfordparkdistrict.org/board. The report is interactive, and community members are encouraged to provide feedback regarding progress being made or not being made.

In the midst of strategic growth and push to seek alternative revenue, the District remains focused on reducing its footprint. Heading into 2020, the Rockford Park District faces another $1.2 million deficit. This historic financial challenge is a result of the District keeping the amount of property taxes collected the same for the last five years even though the cost of doing business has continued to increase. The District only has two main revenue streams, and due to declining revenue both through fees and a declining tax base, along with population and demographic shifts it has become extremely difficult to provide the same level of service without an increase in revenue or a decrease in the District’s footprint. In 2020, the District will also be greatly impacted by the minimum wage increase.

At tonight’s Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners meeting, Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine reviewed the Board's planning process for the remainder of the year, including suggested operational changes based on the District’s need to reduce the $1.2 million deficit for 2020.

“This is just the beginning of our budget planning process, but nothing has been decided. It is important to us that we shared these recommendations early in the budget planning process, so we can have candid conversations and have time to plan. We actually started having this discussion with our community last year, sharing how we are funded, what the community values, and where community members want their tax dollars spent. Our goal is to also become less dependent on property taxes, live within our means, and reposition the Park District to better achieve priorities established by the Board and citizens we serve,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine.

Suggested recommendations to help eliminate $1.2 million deficit include:

  • Permanent closure of Sinnissippi Golf Course

  • Suspension of operations at Snow Park at Alpine Hills

  • Suspension of operations at Alpine Pool

Over the next few months, District leaders will utilize Board priorities and community feedback along with expense, revenue, attendance, and trends reports to develop the 2020 budget. A final decision about these recommendations, along with the tax levy, will be made by the Board of Commissioners at the November 19, 2019 board meeting.

Mike Costello