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Local News

Okon: Wasn't it just October when ...?

Your head may be spinning trying to keep track with the turn of events at the Joliet Park District.

It was only October when the park district opened the Nowell Park Recreation Center, the crown jewel of the
$19.5 million bond referendum that voters approved in 2014 by a 70% margin.

Three months later, park officials decided to go to voters with a referendum seeking a 58% hike in their property tax rate, saying they needed money to cover costs of operations and to take care of aging facilities.

Three months after that, voters turned down the referendum by a 70% margin in the April 2 election.

Last week, park officials decided they would not open Splash Station Waterpark this summer.

So, it’s about six months from the district going from what appeared to be a growing, vibrant organization to one that has to shut down the only public outdoor public swimming venue in the third-largest city in Illinois.

The district tried to keep Splash Station open by seeking a $120,000 subsidy from the city.

However, City Council members this week were getting short notice of the request and weren’t inclined to hand over the money.

Even Councilman Pat Mudron, a board member with the Joliet Park District Foundation – a volunteer group that promotes the park district, but is separate from the board that oversees park operations – said he first heard about the $120,000 request a few days before the vote scheduled for Tuesday and needed to know more about park plans for Splash Station.

“With the voters saying no to the referendum, are we supposed to say yes?” Mudron asked.

Jan Quillman was concerned that the board of commissioners that oversees the district was divided over what should be done with Splash Station.

“They didn’t make a decision, and I feel that the decision is falling into our lap,” Quillman told Park District Executive Director Tom Carstens at the City Council meeting.

No park board members came with Carstens to the city council meeting.

The park board also never took a vote on whether it would keep Splash Station open if the council approved the $120,000 subsidy.

However, Carstens said the board did give him “a directive” after meeting in closed session, indicating the majority was willing to keep the water park open.

The council was so unpersuaded that no one even made the motion needed to put the proposed subsidy to a vote, so the proposal died without a vote.

New park leadership

There will be a change in leadership at the park district, although it’s likely to come from within.

Carstens plans to retire
in February. He has been executive director since April 2016.

Among the budget savings Carstens proposed last week to the park board was that his position be filled from within. The savings would come from not filling the position of whomever replaces him.

That person could be Deputy Director Brad Staab, the appointed spokesman for the referendum campaign who ran the open house sessions held for the public.

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