As revenues drop, Rockford Park District reexamines budget and services

By Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

Laura Gibbs-Green, public relations & internal communications manager for the Rockford Park District. (RPD photo by Jesse Fox)

The Rockford Park District is seeking input from area residents on its facilities and services to assist the district in developing a “community involved master plan.”

To this end, the RPD will be holding several area-wide feedback sessions where community members can voice their questions and opinions.

According to Laura Gibbs-Green, public relations & internal communications manager for the RPD, several factors have prompted the district to re-examine its budget and services.

“We only really have two main revenue streams at the Rockford Park District, we receive funds from property taxes and we have fees (for some facilities and services). Our fee revenue has declined drastically over the last 10 years. The makeup of our community has changed, the demographics have changed and the recreational trends have changed,” she said.

“Years ago, Magic Waters Waterpark and our golf courses were primarily heavy, heavy revenue generators for the district. That’s changed over the years. These are all indicators that we need to do some regrouping,” Gibbs-Green said. “As part of this master plan process, we are asking the community for input and to share with us what recreational needs they have right now.”

She added that reduced funding from the State of Illinois “does not directly correlate” in the lack of revenue for the RPD.

“We have also seen a big decline in Equalized Assessed Values (EAV). We’ve lost almost one billion dollars in EAV since 2009,” Gibbs-Green said. “Over the years, the RPD has made almost $8.4 million dollars in budget cuts. In the last four years, we have been determined not to increase tax dollars for our operating budget. This has saved tax payers over 1.7 million dollars,” Gibbs-Green said.

Three long-standing RPD attractions, Trolley Car 36, Sand Park Pool and the Forest City Queen riverboat are slated to be closed for the summer of 2018 to help ease the park district’s budget crunch.

However, community supported fund raising efforts have allowed the RPD to revisit its decision to suspend operation of these local attractions. A Facebook page, dedicated to the Forest City Queen and Trolley Car 36 with links to two Go Fund Me pages for each attraction are currently trending and helping to raise money for the upkeep and operation of these two attractions.

Gibbs-Green said that the community’s fundraising efforts, so far, have allowed the RPD to re-open Trolley Car 36 on a “modified season” for 2018.

“For citizens to step forward with these fundraising efforts is just amazing,” she said. “Now, by holding these community feedback sessions, we are asking a broader base of citizens, ‘What are your recreational needs?’ We want to make sure that park district services are relevant to today’s generation. That will give us the guidance to go forward with a master plan.”

Gibbs-Green said that a collaborative effort between the RPD, City of Loves Park and the Illinois EPA is addressing remediation needs at Sand Park Pool and as such, the facility will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Plans for a native prairie reserve are also slated for the area around Sand Park Pool.

Since 1909, the Rockford Park District has provided the community with numerous recreational programs, services and leisure opportunities. Now, the park district is asking for the community’s input in how to manage and prioritize the nearly 5,000 acres of park district land and several park district buildings with aging infrastructure.

“We have several different community engagement sessions set up in a variety of our facilities. This is a chance for citizens to hear about history, learn about our financial realities, hear about the community impact and it’s a chance to meet our park district staff,” Gibbs-Green said. “Once our community has had a chance to attend an impact session, take an on-line survey or share their thoughts through our community hotline; we plan to formulate a five year master plan that we expect to share with the community in August.”

She added, “The goal of our master plan is to analyze our district’s assets; make some decisions regarding our underutilized, obsolete or non-trending facilities and formulate a path forward that benefits the community and ensures continued good stewardship of the Rockford Park District’s resources.”

Three ways to get involved in master plan process:

1)  Online – Take Recreational Needs Assessment:
Information needed by June 15, 2018

2) In Person – Attend a Community Engagement Session
• Saturday, April 14 | 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Washington Park Community Center, 3617 Delaware St, Rockford, IL
• Thursday, April 19 | 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Lockwood Park – Trailside Centre, 5201 Safford Rd, Rockford, IL
• Thursday, May 10 | 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
UW Health Sports Factory, 305 S Madison St, Rockford, IL
• Saturday, May 12 | 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Loves Park City Hall – City Council Chambers, 100 Heart Blvd, Loves Park, IL
• Wednesday, May 16 | 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Loves Park City Hall – Richard Brinker Room, 100 Heart Blvd, Loves Park, IL
• Saturday, May 19 | 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Elliot Golf Course, 888 S Lyford Rd, Cherry Valley, IL

3) Call – Community Hotline at 815-987-8871