Proposed state legislation concerns Elmhurst park officials

Minimum wage increases, tax freezes could hurt budgets in years ahead, they say

Old York Road
(Elmhurst Titan file photo)

ELMHURST – “Quite frankly … it’s depressing.”

James Rogers, executive director of the Elmhurst Park District, used this phrase to describe the mood in Springfield, where the ongoing budget impasse has been taking its toll.

Rogers and a few other park district officials ventured to the state capitol earlier this month to attend the annual Illinois Association of Park Districts convention to mull over issues of mutual importance between the various governing agencies.

State law limits revenue sources for Elmhurst and other park districts across the state, meaning they are largely insulated from the years-long stalemate. But that scenario has proved to be a double-edged sword as a few proposals percolate.

“A local tax freeze will not do anything to help the state budget. But it would hurt the local communities quite a bit.”

Board commissioner Carolyn Ubriaco said there are two issues transpiring in Springfield that have raised concern and could directly impact how Elmhurst and other park districts across the state operate in the years ahead.

Ubriaco served as the local elected representative at the IAPD conference. At the board’s most recent meeting May 8, she said proposals to freeze the amount local taxing authorities charge property owners and minimum wage legislation could have detrimental impacts on municipal-level budgets.

“A local tax freeze will not do anything to help the state budget,” Ubriaco said. “But it would hurt the local communities quite a bit.”

As for raising the state’s minimum wage, Ubriaco described it as “a worthwhile goal,” but said it was not practical in all situations.

“Most of our teenage workers are not dependent on what they earn for a livable wage,” Ubriaco said. The IAPD is attempting to convince state lawmakers to make exceptions to the proposed provisions.

Rogers, who attended several panel discussions at the conference, said he had the opportunity to interact with a number of state legislators while he was in Springfield.

“The problems are so far in now that there’s no sugar coating it any longer,” Rogers said.

In other business May 8, the board of commissioners:

• Re-appointed Vince Spaeth as president during an organizational annual meeting that kicked off the new local legislative cycle through next April. Kevin Graf was appointed vice president of the board.

• Approved issuing a $53,990 contract for a series of structural repairs to the park district’s administrative building, 375 W. First St. The work includes replacing doors and windows and making a series of repairs on the roof.

• Combed through a report of the park district’s first-quarter budget for 2017 with Christi Jacobson, director of finance and human resources.

At the end of March, the park district brought in $19.25 million in revenue and $20.62 million in expenses, which is a pattern comparable to other years. Revenue from user fees picks up in the warmer months.

In her report, Jacobson noted a few year-over-year trends. Sponsorship revenue, for instance, is 57 percent higher this year than it was at the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Overall, the amount the park district paid out in salaries and wages decreased 17 percent. Jacobson attributed the decline to staff turnover and staff cuts at Courts Plus.