Meeting tonight on proposed park district in, near Oakwood

Meeting tonight on proposed park district in, near Oakwood

Clay Woodard believes his hometown of Oakwood and the surrounding communities offer a lot to families and individuals.

He also believes they're lacking in one area — recreational, cultural and social activities that can bring folks of all ages together and enhance their quality of life.

That's why Woodard and others want to create a park district that would have the same boundaries as the school district.

"It's not just providing a playground or a park," Woodard said. "We want to be able to attract and keep young families and seniors in the area. A park district can offer a wide range of programs and activities ... that will improve their lives and give them a reason to stay. We also think it will put a spotlight on our communities so that we can attract residential ... and business development."

Voters in Oakwood, Fithian, Muncie, Newtown and parts of rural Danville will vote on whether to form the Lincoln Trail Park District when they go to the polls on March 18. They will also vote on whether to elect five commissioners.

Candidates include Woodard, Darrell Light, Beau Clouse, Tracy Turner and Gary Ludwig. Voters can also write in names.

If the referendum passes, the panel would determine by lot which two commissioners would serve a six-year term, which two would serve a four-year term, and which one would serve a two-year term. Once those initial terms expire, all newly elected commissioners would serve six-year terms.

The panel would also set the district's tax rate.

Commissioners could consider levying a general corporate rate, one for recreational purposes, one for liability insurance, among others, which combined would be between 17 1/2 cents and 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation at the maximum, said Peter Murphy, president and CEO of the Illinois Association of Park Districts in Springfield.

Murphy estimated that the owner of a $90,000 home would pay about $4.37 a month to the district.

"That's less than a $5 sub at Subway," he said.

Woodard said a longterm goal includes building a recreation center and community room. In the meantime, he envisions the park district offering recreational and after-school programs for kids and everything from art, yoga and fitness classes to bus trips for seniors.

Murphy, who will be at today's public meeting, said he's eager to talk about what park districts can offer. He said the 363 park districts in the state offer structured "cradle to the grave" activities, including recreational programs that will help children stay active and engage them in music, art and arts and crafts, as well as programs for teens.

"The hours from 3 to 6 p.m. are the most dangerous hours for kids ... because they are unsupervised," he said. "Park districts give kids a constructive way to use their time."

Murphy said they also can be a lifeline to seniors.

"Seniors, many of whom have lost a spouse and don't have a social network that gets them out, can feel isolated, particularly those in rural areas," he said. "Park districts play a vital role in bringing them together, whether it's to play gin rummy or build friendships."

Oakwood Mayor Bob Jennings said comments from residents in his town have been mixed.

"There's a lot of concern about another tax," he said.

But Woodard, who once served as Catlin's mayor for one term, pointed out that all of the tax revenue would stay local and benefit residents. He also insisted that the park district would not try to take over existing parks maintained by local villages.

"We want to work in tandem with each of the municipalities to help them improve their facilities and communities," he said.

TRAIL TALK

People can learn more about the proposed Lincoln Trail Park District at a public meeting.

When: 6 p.m. today (Wednesday, Feb. 26)

Where: Oakwood Grade School, 408 Scott St., Oakwood

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