Voters overwhelmingly decided to dissolve a fiscally troubled park district in the Nov. 6 election, but the financial problems aren’t over for the district yet.
The city of Collinsville filed suit Tuesday in Madison County against the Collinsville Area Recreational District, a special taxing district that funded parks through a property tax in parts of Collinsville, Maryville, Glen Carbon and Pontoon Beach for the better part of three decades.
The city says at least part of the estimated $3 million remaining in district coffers should go toward park services, not be used to pay off C.A.R.D.’s debt as planned.
Steve Giacoletto, the city’s attorney, said no one knows yet how much the city could get out of the leftover millions.
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“We just know there’s a pool of money that has not been used for city parks,” Giacoletto said. “We don’t know how long it has been sitting there or what portion has been used.”
An audit showed a roughly $3 million balance at the end of April, Giacoletto said.
James Craney, an attorney for the parks district, declined an interview, saying he does not comment on pending litigation.
The district transferred ownership of most of its parks to Collinsville and Maryville, but residents in the district are still on the hook for more than $21 million in debt. It could take 20 to 25 years to pay off that debt, Collinsville City Manager Mitch Bair has said.
The city argues money left in district coffers was collected with the intention of using it for “maintenance, improvement and operation” of parks in Collinsville, according to a news release sent by the city.
“The city of Collinsville is committed to its residents and taxpayers that park and recreation-related tax dollars be spent for park and recreation-related purposes,” the city said in a prepared statement. “Likewise, taxes that C.A.R.D. has collected for long-term bond payments should be the only money used for long-term bond payments.”
The task and cost of maintaining the parks shifted to the cities that acquired them.
“We’re trying to get some of our cost outlay since we had to take these parks back,” Giacoletto said. “They (the parks) have been neglected.”
Now that the city is responsible for the parks, a portion of the $3 million could boost the bottom line for the city’s newly formed parks and recreation department, Bair said.
“It does represent services that were contracted to be provided to the community but the work that was promised wasn’t provided on those parks,” Bair said. “Our position is 100 percent to protect the taxpayers of Collinsville.”
Collinsville, which represents roughly 60 percent of the district, will operate Willoughby Heritage Farm, Splash City Family Water Park, the Woodland, Glidden and Morris Hills parks, and the Jaycees Sports Complex. Maryville acquired Pleasant Ridge Park, while operation of the Arlington Greens Golf Course went to a private entity, Star Golf Management Company. The Miner’s Theatre was transferred to the Miner’s Institute Foundation after C.A.R.D. spent $1.5 million on it, and Pleasant Hill Park was transferred to Maryville in 2017.
The city manager said the city decided to file suit after it became aware of the district’s intention to put the money toward debt. The district listed “discussion and potential action” on the agenda for their Nov. 20 meeting.
An expanded food and beverage tax in Collinsville is expected to help cover the costs of operating and maintaining the parks, the city manager said. The city plans to avoid imposing any parks and recreation taxes on residents, Bair said.
The village of Maryville could seek some of the money, too, if it chooses to file suit as well, Giacoletto said.
Associate Judge Thomas Chapman ordered the district to not use any money to pay down debt until a public hearing, according to Madison County court records. A conference between the judge and lawyers was scheduled for Nov. 28. At that point, the judge is expected to schedule a public hearing.