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It’s Park District Time!

05.19.08

Last Friday we posted a piece discussing the proposed new Park Ridge Police Station.  We received a few comments about that issue, but the debate was promptly hi-jacked – apparently in response to our suggestion that any new cop shop should go to referendum – by people wanting to discuss the referendum-loving Park Ridge Park District.

“Green Dick” started it by applauding the Park District for taking its major spending plans to referendum, most recently in connection with Oakton Pool.  “Sunshine” followed that up by pointing out that the Park District had to go to referendum because its non-home rule status limited its non-referendum bonding power to less than what these major projects cost.

“GreenDick” and “Sunshine” subsequently agreed on that point, as well as that the Park District’s constant subsidizing of the Senior Center (to the tune of over $150,000 a year) was a questionable policy.  Then things got interesting, as we got into a debate about taxpayer subsidies, the Park District’s youth sports affiliates, its summer camps, and Oakton Pool with what appears to have been one particular “Anonymous” commentator with some strong views about those issues. 

Since we’ve been accused of focusing too much on the City of Park Ridge and not enough on the other local governmental bodies, today we’re using that discussion to give our readers a little Park District to chew on, as well as to give the Park District itself some due. (We’ve edited the discussion down a bit, although it can be read in its entirety at No Time For Fuzzy Thinking On Police Station):

By Anonymous on 05.16.08 6:19 pm:  The park board funds many organizations, not just the senior center. The PRPD spends a reported $3,000,000 a year on overall park maintenance.  I do not know what that breaks down to by football, soccer or baseball field but I am sure the $5 per kid per season that is paid by the separate organizations of baseball, soccer and football does not come close to recovering the cost of maintaining the fields. (Soccer has contributed in addition to the $5 per participant to maintaining the fields and paying for new lights-don’t know about bb or football).  So if we can allocate PRPD money to these youth sports programs then why not to the senior center?

It will be interesting to see if the PRPD board will ask the voters again if we want a new pool at Oakton or an expensive indoor practice field for youth sports?  The citizens have been asked 3 times if they want to spend millions for a new outdoor pool that would only be open 10 weeks out of the year and three times they have said no.  Has the board given up on this issue or are they going to come back again?  Each time they do this they spend taxpayer money to print brochures and market the pros of the bond referedum to the voters.  This seems like a waste money when we are asked nearly the same question for a 2nd, 3rd and 4th time and so on.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.17.08 10:48 amOne difference between money for the Senior Center and money for fields is that the fields are used by exponentially more people – from children on up – than use the Senior Center: in fact, the Senior Center is used by only a small fraction of this community’s senior citizens.  And when it comes to the Park District wasting money on brochures for various referenda, we believe that democracy – giving the voters chances to vote on different kinds of expensive projects requiring long-term debt – is a better use of relatively small amounts of our tax dollars than the $80,000 or so the Park District loses each year on Oakton Pool.

By Anonymous on 05.17.08 3:10 pm:  The figure you use for the loss on the pools may need to be adjusted for the revenue generated by the numerous summer camps that use the pools in the afternoon from 1-3 pm.  Since a portion of the day is spent at the pool-2 hours out of a 6 hour camp-then 1/3 of the revenue from camps that use the pool should be added to the revenue stream from the pool if it is not already included and I have been told by someone familiar with it that the camp revenue is not included in the loss you keep quoting.  This would reduce the net loss from the pools.

True the PRPD fields are available to all in PR, but for a significant part of the year and during usable daylight hours the fields are used by baseball and soccer and football.  They are therefore unavailable to the rest of the population.  In addition, not every kid in PR plays in one of the organized sports-is 2000 kids enough to give such a big subsidy to baseball?  They should be funding more of the field maintenance than just $5 per child.  They-baseball soccer and football-collect hundreds of thousands in participation fees and sponsorship revenue.  They should be doing more to offset the PRPD’s cost of maintaing the fields they are the majority user of.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.17.08 4:00 pmThe figure we use is the figure the Park District uses, so if you have a problem with it you should take it up with the Park District. But camp revenue is camp revenue, not pool revenue – unless you want to re-invent cost accounting.  The bottom line is that Oakton Pool is a black hole sucking up taxpayer dollars year after year while a gutless Park Board and Park District Staff can’t bring itself to close it.

As for the affiliates paying more toward field use and maintenance, we have no problem with that.  Why don’t you raise that with the Park Board and District Staff?

By Anonymous on 05.17.08 8:17 pm:  It is not reinventing cost accounting-if you have written a book on the matter or are a CPA then go ahead and comment.  But all revenue associated with the pool should be considered before deciding to close a pool or build a new one.

Part of the reason kids go to camp is to use the pools.  The total “guests” at the pools should include the campers and the revenue associated with their use of the pool. There are lots of participants in the camps.  With Oakton closed, where will all these campers go from 1-3.  If all the campers go to Centennial for swimming the pool will be unusable to the rest of us from 1-3 as it will be simply too crowded.  Hinkley is too small to accomodate any overflow-it is already crowded on a nice summer day.

I don’t think the PRPD has planned for how to handle the camp situation if the pool closes.  Perhaps they think one summer of a too crowded pool and we will all jump on board and vote for a multi million dollar outdoor aquatic and fun center that will still be only used 10 weeks out of the year.

Perhaps the PRPD board will comment on why the Oakton pool got into such disrepair in the first place. To force us to vote yes for a new pool?

About PRBS-the issue has been brought up to the PRPD board at the same time the issue of noncompliane with IRS filing rules and tax returns for public funded non-profit organizations.  But PRBS seems to have some control over the PRPD as no changes have been made to the $5 fee in years. In 2007 when the PRPD board approved the creation of a reserve fund, the issue of affiliation fees to the PRPD was discussed.  The board voted to keep it at $5 where it has been for years.  As was stated earlier-some of the affiliates, including PRBS, collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and they should give more to the PRPD than the roughly $11,000 for the summer baseball season.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.18.08 9:35 am:  We have consulted with a CPA who confirmed that, even in the arcane world of public fund accounting, because camp use of Oakton Pool is only a fraction of the “camp” program no more than that fraction of camp revenue can properly be attributed to the pool – which amount would also have to be offset by whatever revenues the pool would have earned from general users but didn’t because the campers were there.

And from our perspective, unless the camps provide $80,000 to Oakton – which we have seen no evidence that they do – then Oakton is still a big money loser that should have been closed a year or two ago as scheduled.  But if you’ve got a complaint about how the Park District accounts for the campers, we suggest you take that up with the Park District.

As for why Oakton pool got into such disrepair in the first place, the most obvious answer is its age – which is why the Park District was told it could not simply repair the current problems.  We consulted with one former and one current Park District Commissioner, both of whom confirmed that they were unaware of any time during the past decade when the Park Board refused, or demanded a reduction in, the recommendation of Park District Staff as to the amount budgeted for maintenance and repairs of Oakton, even during the year of the drought Summer (2005) when the diving well cratered.

Finally, as to the sports affiliates fees, we agree that they should pay their fair share of the costs of field maintenance, repair and/or replacement.  And you may be right about some supernatural sway the affiliates have over the Park District.  But you seem to be missing the accounting gene again when you suggest that some of the sports affiliates should pay more money for the fields merely because they “collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.”  Basic accounting dictates that if they spend all of that money on legitimate expenses, there may not be any extra money (i.e., “profit”) to give the Park District.

13 comments so far

Pardon my ignorance on the “pool issues as they have come to referndum so many times it’s hard to keep track.

I remember some years back when the first referendum for a “pool issue” was proposed at Centenial, in the form of a water park type facility. The residents responded in an overwhelming NO.

Park board desides to wait a few years and make a very similar proposal only this time they change the venue to Oakton. As if the residents have no brains or suffer short term amnesia. Meanwhile allowing Oakton to fall into complete disrepair to further the proposed idea of having some type of water park complex somewhere in Park Ridge, they tell us that this is the only way we can continue to utilize Oakton pool. Repairs would be to costly, attendenace is down, we have to tear it up and start from scratch, only now we will build this huge thing so that (yes here are those famous buzz words frquently use by developers) Park Ridge will become a DESTINATION place.

However, the people were NOT fooled by their smooth talkin’. The reason attendance was down is because they let it fall apart. And the people
KNOW they let it fall apart so they could try to convince them that we NEED to do it this way, or risk loosing it altogether.

Still the people, not buying it. Residents are not all that interested in making Park Ridge a destination place. Not through the Park District, Not through uptown deveopment, and they won’t be tricked into changing their minds by allowing areas of town to fall into absolute rubble so that “anything” looks like a good proposal compared to the shambles in wich they allowed to to turn into.

The residents are wise to ALL of you. Park Board, and City Politicians alike.

I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but will address that which was posted by Smiley @ 7:24.

Smiley, you are correct that a referendum to build a water park at Centennial was voted down around 10 years ago (give or take).

About 7 years later the issue of Oakton pool and the failing conditions there are on the table. The Park District went to referendum asking the voters to tear out the pool and build an indoor athletic center at Oakton and to upgrade the facilities at Centennial.

To be fair, upgrade is probably too soft a term, it was building a new complex there to handle the swimmers that would come from Oakton. That referendum was voted down.

The next referendum left Centennial out of things all together and asked for voter approval to build a new pool at Oakton. It was a much smaller dollar amount and essentially recreated what was at Oakton.

It was not going to be a “destination” pool by any stretch.

How do we know that? Because it was rebuilding a 50 meter pool and diving well….those are not what destination water parks are made of nowadays.

35 years ago? Yes. Now? No. That, too, was smartly voted down by the public.

So the public weighed in on the following: No new water park at Centennial, no new re-built Oakton Pool Complex, and no indoor athletic center at Oakton.

In your comments you indicate that you believe the Park District allowed the pool to fall into such a state of disrepair that the voters would be suckered into voting for new pool. You should know that the reason Oakton Pool discussion has been discussed for 8 years is simply a product of when the pool was built and what the expected life is of a outdoor pool in this area of the country.

At that time there had been no major failures (like what has since happened with the diving well), and Oakton Pool has never (even to this day) been denied funding by this Park Board or any previous one relative to improvements (both major and minor). The Park District has also continued to fund pump fixes and other “emergency” fixes that have come up.

To state again, until the Diving Well rose up from the ground roughly six inches (and thus ending the free-wheeling fun that went with jumping from the third platform), there had been no major failures at Oakton.

The Park Board has simply been raising this discussion, and going to referendum to be pro-active before the 50M pool actually did fail. I happen to believe that is a good thing, although I also believe the Park District did not go far enough. They should have closed the pool for good last Fall when they voted to continuing to operate the pool at a significant loss.

Right now that pool is managing the Park District, rather than the other way around. However, and I’ll end here for now, I do not agree with the fact that attendance was purposely driven out. The fact of the matter is that in the “Outdoor Swimming Market” people do not wish to swim in a 50M pool with no slide, diving boards, or “fun” water.

That statement excludes our competitive swimming public, because apparently that is the only place they wish to swim—they just aren’t enough of those folks to keep Oakton profitable (or even close).

At the end of the day, people are going to swim in other pools, towns, states, because it is more fun for them to do so. That’s not a bad thing either.

The Park District has tried to improve their facilities through referendum, the voters have said “no thanks”, so the Park District should move on.

Close Oakton, keep your other facilities in good shape with the money they have (like they are doing at Centennial right now with around $1M in improvements), and call it a day.

Thank you, Smiley, for summarizing what many people in PR feel about the situation with the pools in Park Ridge and how the PRPD has approached this issue over the years.

Affiliates-The PRPD should consider charging more to the affiliates who use fields or facilities that cost more to maintain. For example, the costs for the dirt, grading the fields, maintaining the dugouts and the fences for the backstop are likely higher than cutting the grass on the football field or the soccer field. PRBS may already be paying some of these costs. However, that information is not available because PRBS has never in 57 years filed, until this year, a tax return required by publicly funded non-profits, that discloses how the hundreds of thousands of dollars they collect is spent.

This $5 fee has been in place for years. Meanwhile, the costs to the PRPD-which receives according to its 2006 audited financial statements 93.2% of its operating funds from the public through property taxes and participation fees, continue to rise. That means the subsidy to the affiliates has gone up over the years.

Perhaps it is time to make the youth sports affiliates an official part of the PRPD. Registration would be done by the PRPD and revenues and expenses would flow through the PRPD office.

Before you dismiss the concept of allocating a portion of the camp revenue to the pools, check to see what the total camp revenue is. These are popular programs in the summer and the campers use of the pools definitely impacts attendance at the pools, at least at Centennial, during the peak hours of 1-3. It would provide a clearer picture of the revenue the pools generate. I don’t believe that to be arcane accouting-but a more complete analysis of the revenue stream from the pool.

I went and looked up the PRPD referenda questions, but I could only find records for back to 1996.

In 1996 the dollar amount wasn’t listed in the Board of Election records, but the referendum was a bond issue that passed for pool facilities. I believe that would have been the Hinkley pool.

In the 2005 elections the PRPD put two more questions to the voters, one for $11.5 million and another for $13 million for the Oakton complex. The voters said no.

Again in the 2006 elections the PRPD put two more Oakton quesetions to the voters, one for $9.9 million and another for $24.6 million, and again the voters said no.

Maybe the PRPD Board thinks if they ask for a high enough bond issue the voters will say yes? Not likely.

I do not think the PRPD Board or staff has let the pools rot so as to force the voters to pony up more money for some fancy pool schemes. I think the pools are just getting very old.

Re: the Senior Center.

The funding of the Senior Center comes from more places than just the PRPD. The Senior Center gets funds from membership dues, the City of Park Ridge, and the Park Ridge Community Fund. The Senior Center also received a hefty bequeath from someone’s estate, if I recall. Last I heard they still go over budget every year.

What bothers me about that is the Senior Center is exclusive. It’s not as if any other PRPD affiliate can use the Senior Center space; it’s not just a scheduling issue, it’s not even available. Nobody can even rent the space from the PRPD, which might help the PRPD toward recouping some of the costs of the Senior Center.

Smiley,

2005….those referendums were advisory, not binding.

2006…the $24.6M referendum came first, was voted down and then the Park Board went out again for a replacement pool at Oakton at the lower amount.

I believe you are right that the 1996 referendum was for Hinkley, and then probably about 3 years before that was the first attempt to build a new waterpark at Centennial (that failed).

To Anonymous on 05.19.08 12:22 pm,

Are you getting me, Sunshine, confused with Smiley? I don’t mind, but I thought I would ask.

I think you might be wrong about the 2005 PRPD referendum questions being advisory, because the PRPD could not then vote to issue those bonds even though the voters said no.

Although, maybe I don’t understand the bonding limits for the PRPD nor the nature of what makes one referendum binding and another advisory.

Maybe you or the Public Watchdog could explain the difference?

Sunshine….sorry…yes my mistake in calling you Smiley.

I promise you the 2005 questions were advisory.

The Park District asked the voters two different questions as to what they (the voters) would like to see at Oakton, once the pool was demolished. One option was another outdoor pool, the other was an indoor athletic center.

What makes them binding or advisory is how they are placed on the ballot, by the petitioning body—in this case the Park District.

The Park Board in 2005 was trying to get a sense of what the public might $upport in the way of a tax increase. Even though neither question was “approved” the Park District then moved forward with two subsequent questions that were on the ballot in 2006.

The 2005 referendum would not have given the Park District any ability to issue the debt that was listed in the question, even if there were a majority of “yes” votes.

Both options were voted down.

To Anonymous on 05.19.08 1:01 pm,

No apology necessary, and thank you for the explanation.

I must tell you I still don’t understand the differences. However, I won’t further ask anyone here to play nursemaid to my ignorance. I will find a time to look up the details.

Surely, a governing body asking for public response to referenda for major projects, whether the qeuestions are only advisory or legally mandated, is something I do support. My experience has simply been that it is rare for governing bodies to ask questions in an advisory way. The usual conduct is to ask for voter opinion only when the law requires it.

I wonder if mentioning all the above in relation to the proposal for a new Police Station, here on a Park District post that was the result of a topic hijack of the post on a new Police Station, will get me in trouble with the Public Watchdog? ~wink~

I’m sorry but

what does PRBS stand for?

Park Ridge Baseball (&) Softball.

I think you PWs once printed that the Senior Center has 1200 members and that the taxpayers subsidize the place by about $150,000 a year. That’s a $125 a year handout to each one of those members so they can have their little private club!

If the people running the Park District can’t come up with a better use for that $150,000, then they should resign because that’s ridiculous.

Will the tax returns of the publicly funded non-profits (PR Baseball/Softball and PR Soccer, for example) be available to the public? Are they already? If so, where can they be found?

Soccer and hockey (Express) have a history of filing so prior years returns can be found on the internet. Try googling it or a website called Guidestar. I believe the PRPD is now requiring the affiliates who are required by the IRS to file returns to give a copy of their returns to the PRPD. Check with the office on Sibley to see if they have these returns. Non-profits are required to make 3 years worth of returns available for public inspection.



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