Neighborhood parks and playgrounds are the top priority for residents according to the results of a Rockford Park District survey.
The Rockford Park District began reaching out to the community more than a year ago to figure out what the public expects of them, including via a survey released earlier this summer.
Budget constraints have been an ongoing issue for the District, forcing them to make cuts, such as suspending the operation of the Forest City Queen riverboat this year, and closing down Sand Park Pool.
“We’ve had to make some tough decisions,” said Executive Director, Jay Sandine. “We have a lot of land and a lot of facilities. We’re going to be making some recommendations, to possibly get out of the business of some things, reduce some of our footprint.”
For the past four years, the Park District has elected not to increase tax dollars for its operating budget.
The majority of respondents said they’d be willing to accept a combination of increases in taxes and user fees at the parks, to lighten the budget burden the Park District is dealing with, if that means continued upkeep and maintenance at local parks.
About 40% of respondents said they would be okay with paying more in taxes and user fees.
“Tax increases is always going to happen, whether we like it or not,” said resident Jody Scott. “As long as they do it a little bit at a time, I don’t think it impacts an individual quite as bad.”
Increasing taxes is something the Park District doesn’t want to do. It hasn’t for the past four years.
Sandine says that’s saved taxpayers $1.7 million.
The Park District is in the process of developing a Five Year Master Plan and the survey should help determine where it should reinvest, expand, or cut.
No matter what they decide, residents say that, in addition to parks, art, trails, gardens, and community wide events are important to them.
“Spending time with your family, you’re networking, you’re meeting other people, you’re breathing fresh air. You’re getting healthy and getting a healthy environment,” Scott said.
The Park District will unveil their Five Year Master Plan at their board meeting on August 21st.
The decline in revenue throughout the District is due to changing demographics, competition, and industry trends.
Resident Jody Scott shared how important it is to have places for families like hers to go and enjoy, together.
“You may not have the ability to go far, so you can go locally and still enjoy yourself, still feel like you’re getting away,” Scott said.
The Park District recognizes the importance of getting feedback from the community.
That feedback will help the District find resolutions in it’s five year master plan, so that people like Scott can continue to enjoy outdoor activities in the area.
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