CARBONDALE — The City Council and Carbondale Park District took a hard look at the way a few parks in the city limits are managed now, and how they may be managed in the future.
Currently, Turley Park, Tatum Heights park, the Pyles Fork Greenway path, Evergreen Park and parts of the Carbondale Superblock (outside of the Super Splash Park) are leased to the park district but owned by the city.
As a condition of these leases, the park district is responsible for maintaining the parks in good order, condition and repair. Additionally, the district has the authority to develop programming for public use of the parks. The leases on Turley, Tatum Heights and Pyles Fork Creek have expired. The lease on Evergreen runs through October 2066 and the Superblock lease runs through November 2021.
According to the city, the district still continues to maintain the three parks with expired leases. City Manager Gary Williams and Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro, along with the park district’s attorney, met in January to discuss the terms of the leases. At that time, the district proposed an extension of the leases for the three parks for an annual stipend of about $150,000 from the city to the district.
CARBONDALE — The future of a few Carbondale parks is up for discussion Tuesday night at the Carbondale City Council meeting.
During the City Council's Tuesday meeting, Mayor Mike Henry said the request for a stipend comes as a surprise to the city, and wondered where the city would be able to come up with additional funds. He said the state reduced the city’s budget by about $500,000 and Gov. Bruce Rauner is requesting a similar reduction in his proposed budget for this year.
“It just seems you want us to take over some of the things that you don’t want to do anymore,” he said. “If we can’t do that, those parks might be shuttered.”
Harvey Welch, chairman of the Carbondale Park District Board of Commissioners, was asked about the district’s vision for the future of the parks. He said it’s difficult to answer such questions because there are so many issues to address with severe financial limitations.
The issue came up several times Tuesday that the Park District is limited by its ability to raise revenue because the only way to generate funds is through its property tax levy. Additionally, that tax levy is capped at 5 percent each year.
“The way things are going it is going to be difficult and some relatively hard choices are going to have to be made,” Welch said.
Councilman Navreet Kang said something needs to change in the Park District in order to make more money.
“The only thing that could produce money as an asset is the (Hickory Ridge) golf course,” he said. “Everything else are services to the public, and you don’t expect to make any money.”
According to city’s budget projections for the next year, it would cost the city about $320,955 to start a parks division. That includes one-time purchases like buying vehicles, picnic tables, chip-sealing roadways and purchasing other equipment the city doesn’t have, according to Williams.
He said a conservative estimate for the city to maintain the parks on its own after the first year would be about $173,000. He also said the city isn’t in the parks business, so it is possible it could become more efficient over time and reduce its costs.
Councilman Adam Loos had a couple ideas about how the city and Park District could eliminate the leases for the parks and reduce the property tax levy for taxpayers. The city currently has a 4 percent package liquor tax which brings about $540,000 annually. Loos said the district could continue maintaining those parks until the end of the calendar year and the council could pass an ordinance saying half of the proceeds from the liquor tax would go to the parks.
“If this was successful and we could relieve you of that burden, and the attention could be focused on the park district providing a set of facilities and services that you wouldn’t otherwise have in the community of this size,” Loos said.
Additionally, Loos said the district could drop its tax levy by the amount it uses to maintain the parks. The other benefit would be higher-quality parks, he said.
Renfro said there are several improvements needed throughout the district, but at Evergreen Park alone, new bathrooms and concession stands are needed, as well as resurfacing of the park and oil and chipping needed on the roads.
“I think there is a distinction between maintenance, which we have been performing on the leased property and the investment of capital,” she said. “I think that's what prompted this conversation.”
Councilman Jeff Doherty said the basic function of the park district should be the parks. He suggested looking at the LIFE Community Center for places to cut back on expenses.
“I think the park district should get back to the basics, which is maintaining good, quality parks,” Doherty said.
Park District Commissioner Carl Flowers agreed the district should be responsible for the parks, but it is also responsible for providing recreational services for residents of all ages. He suggested another meeting to consider the ideas presented Tuesday as well as more areas to work together.
Councilwoman Jessica Bradshaw agreed there should be more conversation and that Loos’ idea is probably worth a try.
“I would like to see the park district do more in terms in programming in the facilities,” she said. “We have so much to offer in this region and I think there's so much potential just for programming.”
Welch said he chooses to believe both units of government are doing what it can to make the city better for all residents when trying to solve these problems.
“We didn’t create them (the problems),” he said. “They were handed to us.”
He also suggested continued conversations and another meeting to respond to ideas mentioned Tuesday.
Near the end of the conversation, Henry asked the park district for a list of deferred maintenance that’s needed, adding that if the city is considering getting into the parks business, it needs to know everything as soon as possible.
“This is something we need to address right away,” he said.