Collinsville is going to take back its parks from the troubled Collinsville Area Recreation District, ending an agreement in place for 26 years.
Mayor John Miller said that having control over the parks will be a “huge benefit” to Collinsville residents as well as to CARD.
“The city views the parks as a critical asset for building the community and for economic development purposes,” Miller said in a statement. “The city looks forward to working with our residents to get a great parks and recreation program up and running.”
For years, CARD has been plagued with financial problems, a high level of debt, and in 2013, voters approved a tax reduction that cut the district’s income by $250,000 a year. The park district includes portions of Collinsville, Maryville, Pontoon Beach, Glen Carbon and some unincorporated areas to fund a number of area parks, along with Splash City Water Park and Arlington Golf Course.
In 1991, the city of Collinsville leased its parks to CARD, a relationship that has sometimes been strained. While the parks still belonged to the city, CARD was responsible for maintenance, and with its reduction in tax income, some have argued that the parks have fallen into disrepair.
In June, Collinsville City Manager Mitch Bair said he had been trying to negotiate an agreement for the city to take back its parks. However, Bair said the city would need $400,000 a year to run a parks department. Therefore, he said, the city wanted CARD to either compensate Collinsville for the cost or reduce its levy so Collinsville could increase its taxes to cover the parks without costing taxpayers additional funds.
At the time, CARD board president Ron Jedda said the parks district was willing to cancel the lease and would add in maintenance equipment, but declined to turn over property tax revenue.
Late Friday, a joint press release announced that an agreement had been reached: Woodland, Glidden and Morris Hills Parks, as well as the Jaycees Sports Complex, will be returned to the city. Also included is Schnucks Memorial Park, previously owned by CARD, and now to be owned by Collinsville.
According to the release, CARD has agreed to turn over the maintenance equipment, funds from leases of two cellular towers in Woodland Park, and will lower its tax levy by $100,000. The city agreed to consider lifting a dollar cap on property taxes enacted in 2007 to aid in funding the start of a parks and recreation department.
The release stated that the agreement is projected to reduce property taxes for non-Collinsville CARD taxpayers and a neutral impact for Collinsville residents.
Jedda said in a statement CARD continues to face financial problems due to its debt, and will continue to do so with reduced income. “It is anticipated that CARD will be receiving more petitions to disconnect from the district in the future, further reducing operating revenues,” he said. “Therefore at this time it makes sense to terminate the lease.”
The original lease was extended in 2010 and would not have expired until 2029. Collinsville will take over the parks as of Jan. 1, presuming the plan is approved by both the CARD board and the Collinsville City Council.