Urbana park board looks at potential cuts

URBANA – Cutting back the hours and days of operation at Crystal Lake Pool are among the options under consideration by the park district board in the wake of the Feb. 5 defeat of a tax increase.

Park board members met Tuesday night, for the first time formally since a proposed 35 percent property tax rate increase went down to a narrow 50.5 to 49.5 percent defeat in the primary election.

Board members and park district staff appeared a bit melancholy and didn't seem to have much of a stomach for immediately making budget cuts. They put off any decisions until a March 6 study session, where park district staff will have a detailed menu of options to consider.

"This is not fun," said board President Michael Walker after the meeting. "We had hoped to be having a happier conversation. We've got some tough decisions ahead of us."

A memo to the board from district Executive Director Vicki Mayes suggested $69,000 in potential savings. Some $25,000 in cuts could come from reducing the days and hours of operation at Crystal Lake Pool, the memo said.

The memo suggested closing the pool at 5 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.; delaying the opening until after June 4 when school is out and closing before Labor Day weekend after college students leave and the district is short on seasonal employees. Another suggestion included reducing the hours early and late in the day when participation levels are extremely low, which would mean eliminating weekday and weekend adult lap swimming. Also suggested was to not replace the 2-meter diving board.

Other budget-cutting suggestions put forward by Mayes included eliminating the "Shades of Blue" concert during the summer, saving $12,000 and staff time, and eliminating several seasonal, temporary positions, such as a seasonal naturalist, two special program assistants and a part-time construction assistant, for a potential savings of $20,000.

One suggestion that board members seemed to reject Tuesday was ending the mailing of the district's seasonal program brochure to residents.

The proposal instead called for making the brochure available online and having copies available at Urbana schools, the library and park district facilities.

Such a move, along with using a cheaper grade of paper, could save $12,000 annually.

But board members and Dan Gibble, the district's superintendent of recreation, said the seasonal brochures are how the district attracts paying customers to park programs.

"This guide is really our sole way of reaching customers who are actually paying for services, other than through property taxes," Gibble said. "This would greatly reduce the number of new customers we would get."

Mayes also appeared to reject another cost-cutting proposal, removing four below-standard playgrounds in Carle Park, Blair Park, Wheatfield Park and AMBUCS Park. She said the district would continue with its program of replacing one playground each year and working with the neighborhood to plan renovations and generate private financial support.

Mayes told board members the best thing they can do right now is to relax and reflect for a little while before making any hard decisions.

"We're tired," she said. "We need to sit back and catch our breath ... and take a few steps back and evaluate where we've been and where we're going.

"I have every confidence we'll be able to figure out what needs to be done next."

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Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation

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