Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Urbana Park District in need of Support By: Darlene Naolhu

Ancient trees, remnant forests, historical parks and nature facilities. There’s a lot more than what meets the eye in the community of Urbana, Illinois when it comes to the environment. The small city consists of numerous natural areas and parks open to the public at a wonderful price of zero. But with the economy in crisis and expenses increasing, the Urbana community will soon find it hard to maintain these areas as they once have been.

For the April 7th ballot this year, community members will be given the opportunity to resolve this issue. The Urbana Park district is proposing a property tax increase of 15 cents for every $100 dollar assessed valuation needed in order to obtain the funds required to help sustain the work and facilities that the Urbana Park District provides. With so much on the line, it’s important for Urbana residence to consider the options available to them.

The 15 cent proposal means that for a person with a home valued at $100,000, there will be a tax increase of $50. This would bring in an additional of $850,000 a year to the park district and will help them continue their services to the community.

According to the Urbana Park District, its mission is to improve the quality life of the citizens through a responsive, efficient, and recreation system. But with the shortage of funds, many of the programs offered through the Urbana Park District are in jeopardy.

“Our challenge is that with the amount of tax funds, the park district has not been able meet the costs needed. Without the tax increase, 12 percent will be cut from our funds,” said Vicki Mayes, the Executive Director of the Urbana Park District.

With the tax increase, the district will be able to continue contributing to the health and vitality of the community. The park district provides the Urbana community a range of recreational programs, aquatic centers and gymnasiums. In response to environmental issues, the park district also manages the gardens, parks, and natural areas in the Urbana area and provides an excellent environmental education center where over 35,000 people a year attend the programs offered.

“We want a healthy environment for the community. These programs are a way to help people understand what is going on with the environment and how it can be fixed. Without an increase in funds, we won’t be able to provide these kinds sources for the public,” said Mayes.

According to Mayes, the Urbana Park District currently operates at $4.9 million, but is only receiving $2.7 million in property taxes. Because of the Illinois tax cap, which limits the amount that a property owner pays, the park district’s property tax revenue has not been able to keep pace with the rising value of the community expenses. With over 300 employees and many services to provide, the Urbana Park District is in need of more funding.

“15 cents is the smallest rate increase that will allow the park district to maintain services,” said Mayes.

Already, the district has begun to witness the effects of the funding shortage. The Crystal Lake Pool, renovated in 1980, and located in the Crystal Lake Park, has been closed down for the year 2009 due to safety concerns. Currently, there is not enough funding to replace it with or without the 15 cent referendum. Instead, if the referendum does pass, the funds will be used to help plan for a new pool.

“It’s an extremely touchy situation. The public will have to choose between higher taxes or a less sufficient community,” said Hannah Grant, a sophomore at the University of Illinois. Grant has been involved in many environmental outreach organizations in the area and feels that an increase in funding is definitely in need. “There’s a lot more room for improvement. I think it’s something that the community should definitely consider.”

In Feb. 2008, a 25 cent tax increase proposal which included a new pool failed to pass by less than 62 votes. If the referendum should fail this time, there will be a large reduction and elimination of staff, programs, and services. Community events, landscaping, and maintenance in parks and facilities will all be affected.

“The Park District provides a lot to the public. With the economy in a chaos, now is the perfect time to take advantage of these services,” said Mayes. “These are all affordable, high quality activities, all very close to home.”

Voting will begin on April 7th, which will determine the fate of the Urbana Park District’s budget. Mayes is hopeful of the outcome. “We’ve let the public know what’s going on. Now it’s up to the people to make the rightful choice.”

1 comment:

Mike said...

great article! very thoughtful analysis