Testimony to Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners regarding 2010 Budget

December 2, 2009

 Testimony to Board of Commissioners on 2010 Park District Budget

 Friends of the Parks has reviewed the proposed 2010 budget and supports its approval.  Keeping in step with most other governmental agencies, the Park District does not raise property taxes.   With limited revenue growth, the Park District is meeting today’s economic challenges by producing a balanced budget with no tax increases. 

While we support the 2010 budget we have several recommendations:

 

  • The park district should focus solely on its mission of “becoming the leading provider of recreation and leisure opportunities.”  
    • Recently, Friends of the Parks has been visiting parks throughout the city between 3:00-6:00p.m.  We have witnessed a wide disparity between parks bustling with activity and those with little or no activity. 
    • In order to successfully focus on the park district’s mission, we believe it is essential that all recreation staff be trained on a regular basis on the importance of quality programming as well as promoting park district offerings. 
    • We commend you on your efforts in wellness and special recreation programming but suggest that a review of pricing strategies to make capital intensive resources such as fitness centers affordable.  On recent site visits not one person was using a fitness center.  It seems clear to us that cost is the problem.  The small fitness centers cost more to use than Bally’s and neighborhood Y’s.

 

  • The 2010 budget should include an outsourced independent auditor tasked with randomly visiting park sites.  An auditor should track actual park usage which can then be analyzed in conjunction with program pricing.  This type of assessment will provide statistical data on the differences between strong versus weak performing parks. 
    • Once analyzed, a process can be developed to improve weak parks and build on strong parks.

 

  • We realize the park district was able to lock in natural gas rates in 2010.  However, utilities still require a significant cost reduction.  Overall utility costs now total a whopping 10.9% of the total $259 million property tax line item.  In just five years, utility costs have skyrocketed $13.2 million or 71%.  

                   Imagine the recreation services, programs and events we could have with $13.2 million. 

 

  • We encourage the park district to rethink the privatization of the district’s concessions. 
    • We would like to see an increase in revenue from park concessions.    Prior to privatization in 1996, the Park District showed net revenue of $2.9 million from concessions.  In 2010, concession revenue is projected at $1.3 million, a decrease of $1.6 million, or a 123% reduction since privatization.   This is a privatization contract that has proven to be costly to taxpayers.  

 

  • We suggest that costs in Central Administration be reduced.  In today’s corporate, non-profit and public service industries, staff cuts are being made and productivity has been maintained and/or increased.  The Park District 2010 budget does not conform to that trend. 
    • The park district maintains a multitude of redundant positions (directors, deputy directors, chiefs, managers, deputy managers, etc).
    • Furthermore, the fourth floor check in process is excessive.  We suggest that the 4th floor reception be eliminated and that a phone system be devised allowing visitors to contact the individual with whom he/she is meeting.  

 

  • We commend the Facility Management Department’s plan to implement a preventive maintenance program for pools and painting of park facilities. 
    • We strongly suggest that an annual maintenance program be developed for playgrounds.  The long term benefits of regularly maintaining and updating the 500 plus children’s playgrounds will be immeasurable from safety and long-term financial perspectives.

 

Friends of the Parks finds that the 2010 budget holds the line on property taxes and offers a balanced budget through reductions and elimination of vacant positions.  With recommendations to implement in 2010, we add our support for the proposed 2010 budget and look forward to working with you to improve our parks.