Urbana park board expected to seek tax increase

Urbana park board expected to seek tax increase

URBANA – The Urbana park board is expected to ask voters to increase the district's property tax rate by 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Park board members will decide tonight whether to place the question on the Feb. 5 primary ballot. The board meets at 7:30 p.m. at the Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway Ave., U.

As proposed, the ballot question would ask to increase the district's tax rate from the current 70 cents to nearly 95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The tax hike would generate an estimated $1.4 million in additional yearly funding for the district.

For the owner of a $150,000 home, the higher tax rate would translate into a $112.50 increase in property taxes, including the standard homestead exemption.

Veteran park board member Bruce Larson said the district last asked voters for a tax increase in 1993 and that, due to property tax caps, the district must again ask for additional funding. Tax caps have limited the park district to inflationary increases in its tax levy for existing properties.

"I think the park district is at a crossroads if it's going to take care of what it has and if it's going to launch itself for the future, adequate funding is needed," he said. "We've gone as far as we can with present funding. If the citizens of Urbana want to continue their distinguished park system, we need new funding."

Park district Executive Director Vicki Mayes said the district recently completed a strategic planning process that included an extensive communitywide survey. In that survey, residents identified four services that they want the district to concentrate on in coming years.

– Take care of existing parks, playground and recreation facilities.

– Build more trails and pathways.

– Update and improve aging Crystal Lake Park.

– Restore more natural areas and maintain existing ones.

She said the district, if it gets voter approval of the funding, would concentrate on those objectives.

"The rate increase will help us provide what our citizens think is most important," Mayes said.

Crystal Lake Park would get the most extensive makeover if the tax increase is approved, she said. That would include a $4 million renovation of Crystal Lake Pool, including adding a "spray ground," a new bathhouse and a zero depth entry to the pool. A new destination playground would also be added near the pool.

Other plans for Crystal Lake Park call for developing a lakeside promenade trail, new public restrooms and adding new connected pathways and a 10-foot-wide trail along Park Street and Broadway Avenue. Plans also call for relocating the district's maintenance facility from the center of Crystal Lake Park to Chief Shemauger Park.

"You don't want your maintenance facility in your signature park," explained park board President Michael Walker.

The higher taxes would allow the district to add more pathways in neighborhood parks and to create connections to communitywide trails. More playgrounds would also be added to existing parks, Mayes said.

"One of the things people have told us is they want us to take care of our existing parks," she said. "Internal pathway systems in our neighborhood parks is very important."

She said if the funding is approved, the district would likely make most improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis and avoid issuing bonds. That would enable the district to avoid paying large amounts of interest, she said.

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