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Rockford Park District Faces Budget Deficit

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The Rockford Park District says that declining fees, losses on Sports Tourism facilities, and years of declining property tax revenue have left it with a $1 million budget deficit for next year, and is indicating that raising the property tax levy may be necessary to close about half of it.

The district said in a news release it has cut its budget aggressively over the years, but is having difficulty making up for a combination of revenue declines while the number of parks and facilities it manages have increased.  They say that fee revenue from the Magic Waters Waterpark and the Park District’s five golf courses used to be major revenue generators but no longer are.  In fact, an ‘Eyewitness News’ investigation into golf course expenses for the Park District in 2015 revealed that golf is now a money loser, especially the higher-maintenance Aldeen Golf Course.

Since 2009, the Park District says full-time positions have been reduced by 10% while the district as added more than 20 parks, playground, parking areas, paths, or new amenities such as Alpine Hills Adventure Park, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Mercyhealth Sportscore Two expansion, Olson Swedish Heritage Park, and the UW Health Sports Factory.  While some facilities such as the Sports Factory were built to bring in sports tourism dollars, the Park District says it operates them at a loss.

Cuts in the Park District’s preliminary budget include:

  • Elimination of four- full-time positions by attrition and restructuring
  • Reduction in event support/parking staff services for RPD events
  • Elimination of free police and event support for partner events
  • Reduction of one week of the free Music in the Park Summer Concert Series (8 weeks vs. 9 weeks)
  • Elimination of indoor swimming lessons
  • Closing Harkins Aquatic Center two weeks earlier

That leaves a deficit of approximately $532,000 the Park District says, and if more cuts are not made, the only other option is raising the property tax levy rate.  Should the Park District decide to close that gap by raising the tax levy, however, it would have the impact of making a dire property tax situation even worse.  A homeowner in Rockford currently faces a tax levy of more than 15.1%, among the highest in the nation.  Of that 15.1%, 1.15% goes to the Park District, so a levy increase would not amount to large sum overall.

However, experts have said that high tax rates in Rockford depress housing values while pushing tax paying residents and businesses out of the city, and tax entities need to be looking for ways to reduce the property tax rate, not raise it.

Winnebago County Commissioners made deep cuts in programs in including the Sheriff’s Office to prevent a tax increase, but some city officials in Rockford have indicated they may not be willing to do the same, potentially pushing the property tax rate even higher.

Formal approval of the Park District’s 2018 budget will take place at the January 16th board meeting.

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