COLLINSVILLE — The parks district director warned the board that drastic changes will need to be made to maintain the district's operations on the lower taxes mandated by last year's referendum.
Last year, voters in the Collinsville Area Recreation District approved a 25 percent reduction in property taxes, or approximately $30 per year for the average household. Executive Director Terry Wilson told the board Monday that despite cost-cutting measures, they would not be able to maintain the current level of services without more changes.
"There isn't anything we haven't cut. There is no fluff," Wilson said. "Some drastic decisions are going to have to be made."
Wilson said he understood why people voted in favor of the referendum, given the level of public mistrust in CARD over the last few years. "I knew in taking this position as executive director that part of my job was to regain that trust," Wilson said.
But Wilson said he has told the CARD board for months that money spent now has to be geared toward revenue-generating enterprises to make up for the lower tax revenue. He asked the board for direction in the choices that needed to be made.
"I believe that the public at large is looking to us to take care of their parks and provide recreational services equivalent to what they've paid for," he said. "If you have a plan, I have yet to hear it."
In the 18 months since Wilson was hired, he said a number of cuts have taken place, including canceling a $480,000 property purchase; returning the Miner's Theater to a nonprofit; eliminating seven positions; cutting staff credit cards from 22 to five; eliminating personal use of district vehicles; and refinancing debt to save $30,000 a year.
Parks superintendent Kevin Brown presented a list of park operations to the board, including maintenance of 220 acres, 15 ball fields, restroom and trash service, maintenance and inspection of 12 playgrounds in parks and Unit 10 schools, setups for city festivals and events, repairing more than 125 incidents of vandalism a year, meeting EPA and public health requirements - everything from putting down new rock in parking lots to helping wounded ducks and geese, he said.
The parks staff used to have six full-time employees, two part-time, seven seasonal and three rangers. All except the six full-time employees have been laid off, Brown said. All parks employees have college degrees and are nonunion, he said, earning an average of $8 less per hour than city employees who are not required to have college degrees.
But six people can't maintain the parks alone, he said. "With the staff being cut by two-thirds, you're going to notice a huge change in the parks," Brown said.
For example: Wilson said there are 10 tournaments booked at the sports complex that cannot be staffed because he no longer has enough employees. "It's impossible to maintain what we have," he said.
After a closed-session discussion, board president David Tanzyus said they may take surplus from the bond and interest fund to hire staffing through June, so CARD can get through the tournaments that they hope will start generating revenue apart from tax dollars. They did not have exact figures yet.
"We're at least getting ourselves a little farther along the road here," Tanzyus said.
Some residents spoke in favor of restoring the previous tax rates. Resident Rick Rehg said he believed the public was misled about the tax referendum, as the person who came to his door merely asked if he wanted to lower his taxes.
"Who doesn't want to reduce taxes?" he said. "The group that led the effort to lower the taxes should come back now and educate the public as to what we need, and push a referendum to increase the taxes."
Wilson said he believes that the numbers used to determine the 25-percent cut were "not a true representation" of the cost of running the district.
Others were critical of the CARD board's decisions. Resident Joe Ashmann pointed out that the board had voted to apply for a state grant to complete some construction at Pleasant View Park in Maryville.
"That park was crumbs to Maryville," Ashmann said. "I'd turn it over to Maryville for a dollar before I invested more money into that thing."
Ashmann also criticized the board's decision to install solar panels at the main CARD facility. Wilson said the solar panels would provide 60 percent of the facility's power and could eventually be self-sustainable, enabling the building to be used as a warming station and emergency management facility.
Some board members discussed the possibility of tax increment financing assistance from the city, which Tanzyus said had never given TIF funds to CARD except for the Miner's Theater project.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2507.