OP parks desperately need, and deserve, more tax dollars

Opinion

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Fellow Oak Parkers:

The Park District of Oak Park needs an infusion of cash. If it were a suit of clothes the seat would be shiny with the cuffs a little frayed, and its owner would likely be looking to buy a replacement.

The park district's deferred maintenance that has been the result of tight finances over the past decade and a half since tax caps were passed is starting to take its toll. Ice skating had to be halted last fall for a day at Ridgeland Common to repair a leaky roof. The filter at Ridgeland Pool is over 30 years old and needs to be replaced. The original boiler at Ridgeland Common is still in operation. Now Ridgeland needs a new Zamboni machine. Tuck pointing and new roofs are needed at several of the recreation centers. The gymnastics center on Madison Street was shut down for a week last year to replace a root truss.

Meanwhile, the outdoor playing fields are in constant use. Some need to be reconfigured. Park benches and signage need to be replaced. Master plans need to be compiled if the system is to be eligible for state and federal grant programs. It all ads up to about $14 million that the park district will need to spend to maintain and repair facilities over the next several years, according to an inventory conducted by the Citizen Infrastructure Committee in 2002.

While going through an extensive planning process to ensure that money is well spent, the district has tightened fiscal controls, returning revenue facilities like the pools and rink to a pay-as-you-go basis. User fees currently pay 46 percent of the district's expenses. In some cases the district has even turned toward private business sponsorships, notably in the summer concert series, to help pay the bills.

Oak Park's current parks tax levy of just under 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation puts us at the bottom of the heap compared to our neighbors like North Berwyn (34 cents), River Forest (43 cents) and Forest Park (57 cents). Increasing the levy by 25 cents would move us to the middle of the pack, not a bad place to be as long as we're getting more bang for our buck.

The planning's been done; the belt tightening has already been accomplished. We need to step up now and approve the 25 cent increase for the park district to insure that our substantial investment in parks and recreation in Oak Park is protected. Please vote "Yes" to renew our parks on April 5.

Former Park Commissioners: Rosemary Bailey, Peggy Kell, Nick Bridge, Nancy Norton, Catherine Deam, Laura Perna, Karen Garbe and Chris Corner Stannard

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