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Local News

Joliet Park District seeks 58 percent tax hike

Joliet park taxes would rise 58 percent under proposed referendum

The Joliet Park District in April will ask voters for a 58 percent increase in the property tax rate, hoping to garner the kind of support shown for the parks in a bond referendum approved five years ago.

In November 2014, a referendum won in a landslide as 70 percent of the voters authorized $19.5 million in bonds to pay for park renovations and improvements.

Despite that injection of cash, the Park District has been operating at a deficit. Officials say that although they were able to use the bonds to deliver on promised park improvements, there is not enough money coming in to cover the cost of regular operations and maintenance of aging facilities.

The park board at a special meeting Monday voted to put the tax referendum on the April 2 ballot.

Homeowners now paying $144 per $100,000 of assessed value in property taxes a year to the district would pay $229 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Park officials will try to demonstrate the need for more money with three open houses being held at park facilities that they say require maintenance. The first will be Jan. 19 at Joliet Regional Airport.

“The main hangar is 90 years old, and it’s been in disrepair for a long time,” Park District Deputy Director Brad Staab said Tuesday. “The airport generates revenue, and users do fund the airport. But the money it brings in isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed for repairs of that facility.”

At the same time, Staab cautions against expectations of a to-do list of specific projects, such as the one that came with the 2014 referendum.

“If this were to pass, this referendum will affect the entire district,” Staab said. “The funds will be used for every facility. It could affect everything from softball to golf, from the ice arena to the water park.”

The tax increase would generate
$5 million a year, which would be added to the $8.8 million a year the district now gets from property taxes.

Finance director Matt Pehle said 32 percent of Park District revenue now comes from property taxes, which compares with 50 percent at other park districts.

That’s not enough to keep up with costs, he said.

“For the last four years, we’ve operated at a deficit,” Pehle said.

Park District officials say the
$8.8 million Joliet gets from tax dollars is far less than comparable park districts: Bolingbrook at $12.4 million, Peoria at $18.1 million and Fox Valley in Aurora at $22.4 million.

The 2014 referendum currently is costing Joliet taxpayers about $18 per $100,000 of assessed value each year. They will continue to pay for those bonds until 2039.

Park officials at least can hope that taxpayers are satisfied with how that money was spent.

“Everything that we said we were going to do with that money,” Staab said, “we did.”

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