Funds sought for Urbana Park District

Funds sought for Urbana Park District

URBANA – Normally, Roberta Gumport, who lives in south Urbana on Anderson Street, could be counted on to support the Urbana Park District when it asked for a property tax increase.

But this time, in an uncertain economy, she's undecided about whether to support the district's request for a 25-cent increase in the district's property tax rate – a 35 percent increase in the district's overall tax rate – that park district officials say is necessary to maintain and update the city's parks and recreation facilities.

"I'm torn," Gumport said. "We use the parks. We love the parks. I like what they've done and, basically, we are supporters of the park district.

"I think they need more money," she continued. "But I think the amount they want this year is too much."

Gumport's position reflects the challenges the park district faces in trying to sell a substantial property tax increase in an economy that many believe is in a recession, or near one. But the district still appears to enjoy considerable goodwill among Urbana residents.

Alice Deck, like Gumport a south Urbana resident, said she will definitely support the proposed tax increase on the Feb. 5 primary ballot.

"I support the park district," she said. "My daughter (Kendra, now in college) used the park district quite a lot. She worked for the park district one summer – it was her first job – and she attended day camp (during the summer) all the way through elementary school."

The district is asking voters to approve increasing the district's overall property tax rate from 70 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to about 95 cents For the owner of a $150,000 home, that would mean an increase in property taxes next summer of about $112.

As the question appears on the ballot, the increase in the district's tax rate is understated because two funds, the district's bond and special recreation funds, are not included in the "limiting rate" capped by property tax caps. The ballot question states the 25-cent increase would take the district's limiting tax rate to 77 cents. But park district officials said the increase would take the district's overall rate to 95 cents.

For the park district, the increase would boost property tax revenues to $5 million annually from the current $3.6 million.

Park District board President Michael Walker said the district has seen its property tax rate decline from 89 cents in 1997, when property tax caps were first imposed following countywide voter approval, to last year's 70 cent rate. But during that same period, the district's equalized assessed value rose from $259 million in 1997 to nearly $514 million last year, and the district's property tax extension rose from $2.37 million to $3.63 million.

Walker said if the tax increase is approved, he believes it will put the district on solid financial footing for the next decade, and enable the district to make numerous improvements without having to borrow money and pay interest expense.

"Obviously, I would wish there weren't so many economic clouds on the horizon," he said. "But to have the quality of park district I believe the people want, we've got to have this money."

With the advent of tax caps, the district has seen its property tax levy growth limited to the rate of inflation, plus any taxes from new construction. Tax caps have also frozen the park district's ability to issue non-voter approved bonds, used for maintenance, smaller capital projects and to match state grants, to $660,000 per year, he said.

Walker said that if the tax increase is approved, the district would embark on the following projects:

– Renovating and improving the district's community and neighborhood parks. That would include replacing older playgrounds and building walking paths. The district would involve the surrounding neighborhood when renovating a neighborhood park, using as a model the recent renovations of Victory and King parks.

– Constructing walking and biking trails throughout the district, including connected paths within parks and connections to communitywide paths.

– Rejuvenating Crystal Lake Park. That would include building a lakeside pathway and an improved park entry; building a trail around the entire park and connected internal paths; adding two new public restrooms at the north and south ends of the park; relocating the maintenance operations facility from central Crystal Lake Park to Chief Shemauger Park and creating a picnic area where the maintenance facility used to be.

– Renovating Crystal Lake Pool. The district within a few years wants to undertake a $5 million renovation of the pool, which would include adding a new bathhouse, a "spray" ground and a new playground, adding a zero-depth entry to the pool and adding slides to the deep end of the pool. The district would use the existing basin of the pool.

– Restoring more natural areas and maintaining existing natural areas, such as at AMBUCS Park, Busey Woods, Carle Park, Crystal Lake Park, Meadowbrook Park and Weaver Park.

Park District Executive Director Vicki Mayes said the district is having difficulty raising the money to match state grant funds, which often provide 50 percent of the cost to acquire new parkland and improve existing parks and add trails. Having sufficient funding on hand has enabled the district in past years to be able to partner with local groups and governments to build the PrairiePlay playground in Meadowbrook Park, the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center, to renovate Victory Park and to add a 10-acre dog park.

Without the tax increase, the district will likely not be able to improve Crystal Lake Park and the pool, and might have to close the pool in future years, Mayes said. The district also won't be able to improve many neighborhood or community parks, or to protect natural areas from invasive species through regular maintenance.

The last time the park district received voter approval of a tax increase was a 10-cent rate hike in 1993.

Ballot question

Proposition To Increase The Limiting Rate

Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the Urbana Park District, Champaign County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to 0.25% above the limiting rate for levy year 2006 and be equal to 0.7783% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy year 2007?

(1) The approximate amount of taxes extendable at the most recently extended limiting rate is $2,715,292, and the approximate amount of taxes extendable if the proposition is approved is $4,000,211.

(2) For the 2007 levy year the approximate amount of the additional tax extendable against property containing a single family residence and having a fair market value at the time of the referendum of $100,000 is estimated to be $83.

(3) If the proposition is approved, the aggregate extension for 2007 will be determined by the limiting rate set forth in the proposition, rather than the otherwise applicable limiting rate calculated under the provisions of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (commonly known as the Property Tax Cap Law).

Explanation: The proposed 25-cent increase in the district's tax rate would increase the property tax bill for the owner of a $150,000 by $112.50. That estimate includes the standard $5,000 homestead exemption for owner-occupied housing.

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Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation

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