Metro-East News

Recreation district gives $3 million park to Maryville. Some taxpayers cry foul.

Maryville mayor says it's 'fundamentally unfair' that residents pay double taxes

Maryville Mayor Craig Short explains the situation with CARD.
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Maryville Mayor Craig Short explains the situation with CARD.

The Collinsville Area Recreation District transferred Pleasant Ridge Park to the village of Maryville on Monday night amid controversy and debate.

Although the decision does not let Maryville residents out of paying down the district’s debt, board President Ron Jedda said it would let the district lower its property tax levy by freeing up $170,000 in operating expenses after transferring those responsibilities to Maryville.

“It’s a win-win for the taxpayers,” Jedda said. “Everybody gets to use the facilities. The facilities aren’t going to go away.”

The district, which includes parts of Collinsville, Maryville, Pontoon Beach and Glen Carbon, as well as unincorporated areas, pays for parks, Splash City Water Park and Arlington Golf Course.

Those opposed to the decision raised questions about the fairness of giving the property to one owner after it was paid for by taxpayers in several communities.

“Giving away assets that were paid for by the entire district to a single entity (Maryville) does not serve all members of the district,” the city of Collinsville wrote in a news release on Thursday.

The city said it pays about 60 percent of the taxes for C.A.R.D. It also estimated that Pleasant Ridge Park cost more than $3.5 million to build, though Jedda said it cost $2.7 million after a $400,000 grant.

The transfer passed 4-to-1. C.A.R.D. board member Brad Sewell voted against the matter, saying he wanted more discussion on the issue.

Maryville Mayor Craig Short also raised the issue of fairness. Until 2007, he said, C.A.R.D hadn’t invested anything in the village, and as of now, Pleasant Ridge Park is the only C.A.R.D. facility in Maryville. However, since joining C.A.R.D. in 1991, Maryville has contributed more than $5 million to the district, he said.

“(C.A.R.D.) was a great deal for Collinsville,” he said. “We just want what is fair.”

(C.A.R.D.) was a great deal for Collinsville. We just want what is fair.

Maryville Mayor Craig Short

Larry Gulledge, the former mayor of Maryville, agreed with Short. “I would say that it’s only fair,” Gulledge said. “We’ve paid much more than what we’ve gotten back.”

But Collinsville City Manager Mitch Bair disagreed that Maryville paid into the district more than it received.

“It’s a bigger conversation than what one park is worth,” he said, because Maryville residents can use Splash City and Arlington Golf Course at resident rates.

Collinsville was also upset that C.A.R.D. scheduled the meeting on the same night as the city had a town-hall meeting and that C.A.R.D. didn’t give a longer notice. The park district announced the meeting on Nov. 16.

“The issue merits open, transparent discussion for the decisions made,” Bair said, arguing that the hasty meeting left out a good portion of Collinsville taxpayers. “They should have reached out.”

David Jerome, a Collinsville councilman, was among the first who questioned the timeliness of the meeting in a Facebook video.

“If C.A.R.D. is seeking to dissolve itself, shouldn’t this be done with the elected officials from Maryville, Collinsville, and Pontoon Beach sitting down and working out a deal for a separation of assets so as to prevent the double-taxation issue?” Jerome wrote on Facebook.

Jedda said C.A.R.D. had scheduled the meeting for Monday because three of its five members expected to be absent from its regular meeting, which was scheduled for the next day. With only two of five members present, C.A.R.D. would not have had a quorum to make a decision on Pleasant Ridge Park. That delay may have forced C.A.R.D. to postpone the decision for a year as certain tax levies hinged on who owned Pleasant Ridge Park, he said.

Jill Rice, a Collinsville resident who works for C.A.R.D., said during public comment that she was upset that park district is being “dissolved from the inside” and wanted more time to consider the proposal to transfer Pleasant Ridge Park. As a mother of four, Rice said that “the reduced rates and free services I enjoyed I have gladly paid for through my property taxes.”

Tim Childers, who had lived in Collinsville for 25 years until last year, said he supports Maryville’s ownership of Pleasant Ridge Park, but that C.A.R.D. also needed to consider what’s fair for everyone in the district. As an employee of the district — Childers coordinates C.A.R.D.’s information technology needs — he worried about district’s mission and about staff reductions.

“We’re being reactive, and we’d like to be proactive as members of the staff here,” he said. “It’s difficult to plan ahead when we don’t know what else is coming around the corner.”

Maryville Mayor Craig Short said he’s assisting Maryville residents to de-annex from C.A.R.D.’s jurisdiction, but he didn’t know when everyone in the village could exit.

“It’s a tedious process,” he said, but ultimately one that would benefit Collinsville, too. Collinsville would no longer have to pay the operating expenses for Pleasant Ridge Park, and Maryville would not longer have to pay for the rest of C.A.R.D.’s operating expenses.

After nearly an hour of closed session, the C.A.R.D. board opened the meeting back up. Before the vote, Jedda reminded the audience that Pleasant Ridge Park is not the first park the district considered transferring out of the district. Miner’s Theatre was transferred to the Miner’s Institute Foundation after C.A.R.D. spent $1.5 million on it, 7.5 acres of wetlands was deeded to Madison County, and Schnucks Park was transferred to Collinsville in October.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel