CARBONDALE — What would appear to be a procedural vote on Wednesday’s Carbondale Park District Board agenda could have a long-term impact on the district and on taxpayers.
A $3 million Park District bond is eligible to be refinanced. The board will decide between two options.
One is to refinance the bond using a “footprint” plan, which would leave the maturation date of 2030 in place while reducing the interest rate, providing annual savings of nearly $25,000 to the district’s bond payment.
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The other is to refinance with a five-year extension, which would offer an annual savings of $106,525 to the bond payment. While this looks good on the surface, recently elected board member Jane Adams says there’s a catch. The extra five years adds interest to the tune of $332,862, according to documents she provided to The Southern. The extension would provide another $81,707 reduction in the annual bond payment when contrasted with the other plan.
Adams said the bonds have primarily been used to subsidize the Hickory Ridge Golf Course in Carbondale, which has not been profitable for years — the documents Adams provided to The Southern show that the golf course has run a deficit of more than $100,000 each year since 2013.
The way Adams sees it, the added $81,000 in savings would not be enough to offset or subsidize the golf course’s operation, and wouldn’t be worth the more than $300,000 in added cost to the taxpayers. She said it seemed short-sighted. She said she thinks the board needs to go with the footprint plan and find a way to make some hard decisions.
“Take the 25,000 that we would get and then really, really address that golf course,” Adams suggested.
This isn’t everyone’s take, though. Adams said at previous meetings when the refinancing of the bonds was discussed there were some pushing the board to take the bond extension.
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“There was clear pressure to extend it for five years,” Adams said. She said fellow board member Carmen Suarez was the most vocal about the bond extension.
Suarez told The Southern it all comes down to a difference in opinion.
“I think it’s really just a perspective on how one views effective use of resources,” she said. Suarez said while the final debate will come Wednesday, she is leaning toward voting yes to extend the bond by five years. She said this added reduction in the district’s annual bond payment will be helpful when accommodating higher health care costs and the minimum wage pay increase schedule. It would also go to some maintenance of Park District facilities.
Suarez said she likens the extension to refinancing a person's home and deciding to borrow extra to remodel the kitchen.
“It’s a way to use your assets to help you with (the) financial needs you have,” she said.
Carbondale City Councilman Adam Loos sees it differently.
“There’s nothing new that’s being gotten,” he said.
There are no new services or improvements being made with the added savings, only added cost to taxpayers, Loos said. He said all of this would be fixed, though, should the city and Park District come to the deal that voters in April mandated them to discuss.
It is not a secret that the Park District is in a bad way financially. Lapses in routine maintenance including landscaping and building repairs are just one metric of this. Loos has brought this up on numerous occasions.
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These maintenance and financial issues are part of what prompted a recent ballot referendum that asked if voters believed the city of Carbondale should explore absorbing some of the Park District’s functions. More than 70% of voters said they should.
Loos said beyond what some see as the fiscal shortsightedness of extending the bond payments by another five years, there’s a social justice element, too.
“It’s basically a Robin Hood scheme in reverse,” Loos said. He said bonds are essentially loans that are provided by wealthy individuals who in turn collect the interest payments made. On the other end of this, Loos said the low- to middle-income property owners in Carbondale are the ones making these bond payments. In this case, Loos said extending the bond debt is particularly egregious.
The Carbondale Park District will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Carbondale Civic Center.