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Local News

Joliet Park District announces more cuts

Details pending on staff reduction, fee hikes in Joliet

The Joliet Park District on Monday announced more budget measures, including future staff cuts, as it tries to recover more than $500,000 in the aftermath of a tax referendum defeat.

Park District Executive Director Tom Carstens said some decisions still need to be finalized, including how many positions will be cut and where fees will be increased.

Carstens said it may be a month before the Park District makes a decision on the number of jobs to be cut and whether hours will be reduced in some positions.

He also said the district has not made a decision on where fees will be increased, including whether the hikes would only affect park programs or include greens fees.

Fuel prices at Joliet Regional Airport already have gone up, and higher rental rates for hangar space go into effect Wednesday.

“We have a target number for money to save,” Carstens said.

He placed that target at between $500,000 and $600,000.

The district listed a deficit of
$1.1 million at the end of March. But park officials said they expected much of that money to be made up once property tax revenue begins coming in.

“After that,” Carstens said, “we’re hoping it doesn’t get any worse than it has in the past.”

The cuts come after the April 2 defeat of a referendum to increase the Park District property tax rate by 58%.

The district subsequently announced it would not open the Splash Station Waterpark this summer after the Joliet City Council refused to consider a $120,000 subsidy to keep it going.

Carstens has said that the district may need to consider closing another facility, possibly including a golf course, if the financial outlook does not improve after cuts are made and fees are increased.

Board President Sue Gulas, however, does not foresee the district closing one of its three golf courses.

“I don’t see that anytime in the near future,” Gulas said. “They are revenue-generating facilities. Are they making us a ton of money? Not necessarily.”

Gulas said the district at times has not been able to get parts for the antiquated irrigation systems at Inwood and Wedgewood golf courses, leading to manual watering of the courses and high overtime costs.

The situation at Wedgewood has improved because of the installation of a new irrigation system financed from the sale of a portion of the course to Hawk Auto for $4.5 million. But Gulas noted that proceeds from that sale by law must be used on improvements at Wedgewood and cannot be spent on other park facilities.

Most of the measures announced Monday had been proposed by Carstens at the April 15 district board meeting.

Proposed limits at the Hartman Recreation Center will be implemented, Carstens said. The facility will only be used for rentals and special events. After-school programs now being run at Hartman will be moved to the new Nowell Park Recreation Center.

Gulas noted that Hartman will continue to be available for the community.

“There are a lot of people who rent it for basketball and for parties,” she said. “We’re still going to have that.”

Other measures announced Monday included a convenience fee to be added to credit card transactions, deferral of equipment purchases, and a restriction on use of Park District cars.

Carstens at the April 15 meeting also proposed a wage freeze, but some park commissioners said they were against it. The wage freeze was not among cuts announced Monday.

Future revenue

One long-term proposal raised at the April 15 meeting was to bring Shorewood into the Joliet Park District and add to the district’s tax base.

Carstens said the district will continue to pursue the idea but has not yet talked to Shorewood officials about it.

Shorewood voters would have to approve the annexation into the Park District through a referendum.

Whether Shorewood taxpayers would be willing is another unanswered question.

Shorewood does not have a park district. But village government includes a Parks and Recreation Department that is funded through the village property tax.

The village has 17 parks, walking trails and programs.

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