A group hoping to dissolve the Collinsville Area Recreation District received a slightly chilly reception in its launch announcement outside the park district’s headquarters Thursday.
Former CARD board president Andrew Carruthers joined a bipartisan group of public officials Thursday to announce a petition drive to place a referendum on the ballot calling for the dissolution of the 25-year-old park district.
“CARD has ballooned into an empire of excessive spending, high property taxes and long-term debt,” Carruthers said.
With interest, Carruthers said, taxpayers are obligated to nearly $45 million in debt through CARD. Even dissolving the park district doesn’t make that debt go away: whether the district is dissolved or not, CARD taxpayers will be making payments for 19 years on those debts.
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“The current board and executive director … have been dealt a bad hand, and despite their efforts, the situation is bleaker now than it has been in years past,” he said.
However, Carruthers said, dissolving the debt means that no further debts will accrue, and he believes overall it will be a savings for taxpayers.
CARD has ballooned into an empire of excessive spending, high property taxes and long-term debt.
Former CARD board president Andrew Carruthers
The plan is to circulate petitions, which must have at least 5,300 signatures of registered voters within CARD territory in order to place the referendum on the March ballot. Carruthers said they will aim for 6,000 signatures to be safe. Then it will take a two-thirds majority vote on the referendum to dissolve CARD.
If approved, Carruthers said, the various properties would be distributed among the municipalities within CARD: Collinsville, Maryville, Pontoon Beach and Glen Carbon. In addition to the parks, CARD owns the Splash City water park, Arlington Greens golf course and Willoughby Farms. Which municipalities would get which properties has not yet been decided, Carruthers said, but that would be negotiated prior to the March election.
However, the properties would not be sold to the taxing bodies, just distributed, Carruthers said. “It doesn’t benefit anyone to sell a property to the same group of taxpayers,” he said.
Among those standing in support were Collinsville Township Supervisor Terry “Bones” Allan and commissioner Chris Guy; Pontoon Beach Mayor Mike Pagano, Glen Carbon Mayor Rob Jackstadt, Maryville Mayor Larry Gulledge and Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, among others from both political parties.
But several bystanders expressed skepticism, and some asked to see the financial projections predicting the taxpayer savings. Carruthers said those projections would be released publicly soon.
Collinsville Mayor John Miller and at least two other Collinsville councilmen were present at the event, but did not stand with the group behind the podium. In the proposed plan, Collinsville would take the biggest hit: In addition to receiving back the four parks it has leased to CARD for the last few decades, it would theoretically receive several more properties, potentially including Splash City.
While Glen Carbon, Maryville and Pontoon Beach each have their own parks and recreation departments, Collinsville does not. It is possible Collinsville would create a new park levy to fund the creation of a new department, Carruthers said.
Miller said the Collinsville representatives did not stand behind the dais because the City Council has not yet decided whether to support it. “It’s going to be a cost for the city of Collinsville to implement some type of a tax to support those parks,” Miller said. “Until we can sit down and see how things will be distributed, I think it’s very important that we stay neutral on this and look at what’s going to happen and how we can pay for this.”
Carruthers said there had been a “very productive” meeting with Collinsville leaders, and he believes that even with the debt service and potentially a new park levy, Collinsville taxpayers would still be paying less than they do now. He did not have specific numbers yet, but said that Collinsville would be able to absorb some of the administrative costs CARD generates, such as financial audits. Dunstan agreed, saying that the duplication of services drives up costs for taxpayers.
Gulledge, who for years has been a vocal opponent of Maryville’s participation in CARD, said he had previously circulated a petition in his village and voters overwhelmingly said they wanted out. “All we are trying to do is give the voters a choice,” he said.
Organizers will meet Saturday at the Maryville Community Center to coordinate volunteers for the petition drive. Carruthers said they have set up an email address at firstname.lastname@example.org, and will be pushing on social media as well.