Lower property assessments and a freeze on state money have Homewood-Flossmoor Park District board members making some tough decisions on how to best allocate dollars for the coming year.
Taxes are paid for the previous year, so the 2014 taxes are what is being collected now. The district’s $17.5 million budget allocates $14 million for operating expenses and $3.5 million for capital improvements.
The Great Recession hurt the area deeply. The equalized assessed valuation (EAV), the total of all taxable property in the district, was $812.7 million in 2010. The following year, it dropped nearly 19 percent, and it has been dropping each year since, according to Renae Ross, superintendent of finance and administration for the park district.
This year the district was able to tax on a total EAV of $531.5 million for 2014. That number is close to what the EAV was 10 years ago, but costs have risen steadily over the past decade.
Approximately 38 percent of the H-F Park District is funded by taxes set at 99 cents per $100 assessed property valuation. Of that 99 cents, 35 cents goes into the corporate fund covering administrative costs, park maintenance and referendum acquisitions, including the old U.S Army Nike missile site that today is Patriots Park, the former Hines Lumber site that today is Millennium Park and the former Cherry Hills Golf Course that today is Coyote Run Golf Course. Voters approved a $12 million referendum in 1998 that covered the costs of the three park sites.
The balance of the budget comes from user fees and other sources. The majority of tax revenue is used for capital projects that the district deems necessary to meet the overall needs of all residents. These include land acquisition, park development, new equipment and replacements, and a variety of other capital expenditures, Ross explained.
The board has been very diligent in its allocations, she stressed. The major project this year is the opening of the $3.2 million Clubhouse at Dolphin Lake.
The board closed the swimming pool at Dolphin Lake, 183rd Street and Governors Highway, in 2010. The old clubhouse, designed with showers and dressing rooms in the lower level, no longer met the needs of the district. The facility was torn down and a new building is being constructed.
The district expected to get $400,000 toward the cost of construction through an Illinois Open Space Land Acquisition grant, but the payment was “frozen” by Gov. Bruce Rauner as state budget negotiations continue. If the money doesn’t come through, the board will reallocate money from other funds to cover the construction costs, Ross said.
Other improvements planned over the next year include repainting the Splash Pad; handicapped accessible playground equipment at Goldberg Park; Lions Pool improvements, including resurfacing the baby pool and plumbing work; a new range ball machine at Coyote Run; and renovation to the whirlpool at the Racquet Club.
The park district’s three major facilities — the Racquet and Fitness Club, the Ice Arena and Coyote Run Golf Course — are all meant to be self-sustaining and they are covering expenses, but the participation numbers are down from what they once were so income is flat, Ross noted.
“The Racquet Club used to be very profitable, but there is other competition out there now. The Ice Arena was huge. We would have ice time from 4 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following day, but now it’s just a small segment.” Golf numbers are also down.
The district continues to assess what it can do to improve the facilities and the participation rates, Ross said.