Park Referendum

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The last time voters were asked to pass a Rockford Park District referendum was 1990. In April voters will be asked to pass a property tax hike of 22 and a half cents that will be phased in over the next three years.

In November, voters passed both a jail referendum and a school board referendum. For April voters will hit the polls again to vote on four different tax increases, with one of them being the park district referendum.

The Rockford Park District is the second largest municipal park system in Illinois, on April 1 the park district is hoping voters will approve the property tax, which would cost $67 for the owner of $100,000 home.

That will generate almost five million dollars per year by 2006.

When asking voters if they would approve a park district referendum there's a mix of opinions.

"Yes I would---it's' a great place to walk," said Darline.

"If I had to vote today my answer would be no," Juana said.

The money will be used to keep workers employed, keep programs such as adventure camp and tot lots open, along with maintaining everyday operations. Workers have about 176 parks and facilities to maintain. Over the past three years funds have been depleting meaning everyday duties cannot be accomplished.

"All of the sections would be reduced," said Ron Butler, Sr. Mgr. Maintenance Dept.

Two out of every three dollars from the referendum will go to maintenance. Another threat? User fees a major source of revenue for the district. The only other money source is grants and sponsorships. If the referendum fails, Senior Manager of Recreation Facilities Dan Gundrum says he has two options, to minimize services or increase user fees.

"We would re-evaluate programs again and see how far in the market, to run programs and facilities," said Dan Gundrum, Senior Manager Facilities Manager.

The money is divided into areas that citizens surveyed pointed out as problem areas. Dan says his goal are to provide patrons with safe and secure parks, keep up maintenance, and provide youth programs, not to become a regular on the ballot.

"This is the third time in four years we stretch out the amount of dollars we get from partnerships," Dan said.

The mission of the Rockford Park District is to help people enjoy life by providing a quality park and recreation system. Administrators say without the money, there will be no park expansions or improvement in growing areas.

Now the money is not a matter of trying to balance the budget. If the referendum fails the district will continue to operate within a balanced budget. The board says they will have to take a look at reductions in services, programs and hours of operations.