Rockford Park District Begins Making Tough Decisions to Address Another $1 Million Deficit

The Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners recently received a preliminary summary of the 2018 proposed budget.

To plan for the 2018 budget season, the Rockford Park District analyzed local recreation and community trends, and outlined a variety of successes and challenges facing the District. In 2016, roughly 10,352,912 million visitors utilized a Rockford Park District facility or recreational amenity. It is proven that a vibrant park system increases property values, decreases juvenile crime, provides health and wellness opportunities, improves the environment, and often employs thousands of area youth for the very first time.

“We are a park district rich in history that was built through the generosity of its citizens, strategic partnerships, and dedicated team members. Even during the recession, we’ve been able to consistently provide outstanding park and recreational offerings to our community; however, with declining revenue both through fees and a declining tax base, along with population and demographic shifts, it is becoming more difficult to provide the same level of service without an increase in revenue or a decrease in our footprint,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine.

Since the recession, the Park District has made roughly $8.4 million in budget reductions to keep a balanced budget. Over the years, the District’s budget has reflected the following:

  • Fee revenue has declined drastically over the last 10 years. For example, facilities such as Magic Waters Waterpark and the District’s five golf courses used to be major revenue generators for the District, but due to changing demographics and recreation trends, this is no longer the case.
  • Since 2009, full-time positions have been reduced by 10% while adding more than 20 parks, playground, parking areas, paths, or new recreational amenities such as Alpine Hills Adventure Park, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Mercyhealth Sportscore Two expansion, Olson Swedish Heritage Park, UW Health Sports Factory, and a Food and Beverage department

This year, the District faces close to a $1 million deficit. To work toward a balanced budget, the District has continued to seek non-tax revenue, further reduce expenses, increase donor support, and explore lease and sale of land or property.

The following are also impacting the District’s budget:

  • Aging infrastructure – The District was formed in 1909, and currently has deferred maintenance needs totaling $12 million. Annually, approximately $3 million is available to address capital needs, including 62 playgrounds that are beyond their 15-year lifecycle, and removal of 2,000 ash trees.
  • Sports tourism economic impact – Sports tourism brings $30 million in economic impact to the community, but these are not profit generating operations for the District. District sports facilities are subsidized due to operational expenses such as staffing, maintenance, parking, and security, all while keeping tournament fees low and competitive.
  • Public sector collaboration – The District is partnering with the City of Loves Park, the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, and Rockford Public Schools among others to standardize public sector spending. These governmental entities are reviewing joint purchasing, equipment sharing, and ways to align bids to save tax dollars.

After several years of continued decline in the District’s Equalized Assessed Value (EAV), the District is experiencing a slight uptick. Those historical declines created reductions in revenue of $328,885 in the Police Fund, $458,632 in the Museum Fund, and $262,075 in the Therapeutic Recreation Fund from 2011 through 2015. This resulted in more than $1,049,000 in reductions of services/programs to achieve balanced budgets. The state of Illinois has also indicated a reduction of roughly $300,000 in replacement taxes.

Initial reductions incorporated into the preliminary budget include:

  • Elimination of four- full-time positions by attrition and restructuring
  • Reduction in event support/parking staff services for RPD events
  • Elimination of free police and event support for partner events
  • Reduction of one week of the free Music in the Park Summer Concert Series (8 weeks vs. 9 weeks)
  • Elimination of indoor swimming lessons
  • Closing Harkins Aquatic Center two weeks earlier

At this point, a deficit of approximately $532,000 remains in order to reach a balanced budget. Formal approval of the 2018 budget will take place at the January 16, 2018 Board meeting.


For the Rockford Park District to be the best urban park and recreation system in North America, as measured by national standards and the citizens we serve.


To 'help people enjoy life' by providing a quality park and recreation system.

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