Another $100,000 Loss The Park District Can Bank On


Way back in October 2007 we wrote our first post – “The Old Oakton Bucket (10/16/07) – criticizing the waste of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars by the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District in keeping the grossly under-used and over-expensive Oakton Pool operating.

As we wrote back then, the Park District has “failed to display the brains necessary to come up with any ideas for increasing attendance and operating that pool more profitably…or the guts needed to make the sound business decision to close the pool and find another use for that site.”  That missing combination generally is deadly in private business, but it seems to be standard operating procedure with local government.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers who have been watching the District pour their hard-earned money down that same hole in the ground for years, nothing seems to have changed since we wrote that post: As the Herald-Advocate reports: “Oakton Pool will live on for another summer” (“Oakton Pool gets one-year reprieve,” May 4).

After sounding like he was going to take the bull by the horns and deal with a facility that annually hemorrhages red ink, new Park District Director Ray Ochromowicz seems to have fallen under the spell that mesmerizes Park Board members and staff alike into letting Oakton manage the District instead of vice-versa. 

Back in March and April, Ochromowicz was talking positively about how “[t]here is enough water in Park Ridge to make up for the loss [of Oakton Pool].  But as the H-A reports, Ochromowicz’s initial “bang” has turned into a whimper.

“There has not been any discussion about altering that course of action for 2010,” he is quoted as saying – “that course of action” being keeping Oakton alive and losing approx. $100,000 a year.  Why not, Ray?  Isn’t promoting these kinds of discussions and making these kinds of decisions what your job is all about, especially in tough economic times?  Or are you so captivated by the enrollments in the District’s tax-subsidized summer baby-sitting service (a/k/a, its “summer camps”) that the $100,000 loss is acceptable collateral damage?

Ochromowicz also offered lukewarm pablum about wanting the Park Board to make a firm decision this Fall about whether Oakton should operate in 2011.  That sounds suspiciously like the “firm decision” the Park Board made in December 2006 before rescinding it when overcome by the warm-and-fuzzies of an approaching new swimming season, as the H-A article points out.

Oakton Pool has been an under-performing and expensive asset for far too long.  And it clearly does not have anything close to the customer base necessary to justify its continued operation: last Summer its attendance was only 17% higher than the South Park “baby” pool’s, despite Oakton’s capacity being almost 700% larger.  

And if a lack of customers isn’t bad enough for the “as is” Oakton, the voters said “no” to a new $13 million Oakton aquatic center by a 70%-30% margin in an April 2005 referendum, and they said “no” to a new $9.98 million aquatic center by a 57%-43% margin in a November 2006 referendum.  We doubt even a less-expensive plan for replacing Oakton pool would do that “well” today.  So why not stop the bleeding sooner rather than later – keeping Oakton open already has cost the taxpayers net losses of almost $500,000 since 2005.  Is it remotely close to fiscally-responsible to eat another $100,000 loss this year, too?

But what the heck…it’s only the taxpayers’ money.  If every other governmental body in this state can waste it, apparently so can the Park District.

3 comments so far

My family enjoys Oakton pool becuase its the only Olympic size lap pool in town. If they just fixed it up it would attract a lot more people.

Niles has nicer park facilities than Park Ridge for the most part… it’s all about management people…

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Niles is approximately 2 square miles smaller than Park Ridge and has has only about 73% of Park Ridge’s population, but we understand it to have significantly more industrial and commercial property taxes and sales taxes than Park Ridge.  Nevertheless, the Niles Park District now has only one outdoor pool (the Oasis on Milwaukee south of Oakton) and no indoor pools: the only public indoor pool in Niles is at the Niles Family Fitness Center on Oakton and Waukegan, which is owned and operated by the Village of Niles. 

Is that $100,000 figure you refer to all variable direct costs to the pool alone, or is some or all of that fixed PRPD costs that will be shifted to other entities once the pool is closed? If some of that is General and Administrative costs that don’t disappear with the closing of the pool, we may be better off letting it linger.

Also, how do we determine the revenue the pool generates? Some of the pool passes must be attributed to Oakton.

Plus, what are the construction costs of the demolition of the pool and the building of whatever goes in its place? Even lawn costs money to build and maintain.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  If you go to the Park District’s website and click on “About Us,” then “Public Information,” then “2010 Budget,” and then go to pages 87-88, you will see that the Park District keeps track of revenues for Oakton (as it does with each pool) from all sources: pool passes (both family and individual), daily fees, camp fees and private lessons.  You will also see how expenses are allocated.  Oakton compares badly to Hinkley; comparing Oakton to Centennial is brutal.