Lake Villa's parks and recreation department has closed and will no longer offer programs and classes to residents due to budget woes.
The classes and programs were funded entirely by participation fees, but that wasn't enough to cover costs, officials said. It operated as a village department and not a separate taxing body, such as a local park district.
"I put a lot of work into the parks. It was bittersweet, but I understand why we have to do it," Trustee Jeff Nielsen said. "I'd still like to figure out a way to make the parks run without taxing people."
Classes including dance, exercise, karate and gymnastics will be discontinued.
The village is directing residents to Lindenhurst and Round Lake Area park districts and Antioch's parks and recreation department for similar programming.
During fiscal year 2009, Lake Villa's parks and recreation department reported a loss of nearly $30,000. The village reduced staffing costs, but it still lost $16,000 at the end of fiscal year 2010, said Lori Heitman, the village's office manager.
Even though the department is closing, village parks will remain open. The Lake Villa public works department will continue to design and maintain village parks and beaches, as it has done in the past, Public Works Director Glenn McCollum said.
Nielsen said some special events such as the Polar Express may still be offered, but would be run by volunteers.
Village officials realized in May they may have to cut recreation programs because of financial problems. With the help of employee Greta Berna, officials tried to make changes over the past six months to minimize cuts, Heitman said.
Berna has been overseeing the program without pay since May in an effort to get department to break even.
When she notified village officials in December that she would pursue a different career, they decided it was time to close the department, Heitman said.
Nielsen said the parks department had hit a wall in recent years, especially when a referendum to build a recreation facility failed in 2008. Without a facility, it was difficult to organize classes and grow the program, he added.
While the referendum defeat was disappointing at the time, Nielsen said, it was probably for the best given the economic troubles that have followed.
"It's great to offer these programs and classes, but our most important priorities are infrastructure and schools," he said.
Nielsen said he is against establishing a park district that would levy a separate tax on residents, but would like to see programs revived in better economic times.
Heitman said the village sent an e-mail to anyone who had enrolled in classes in the past to alert them of the change, but hadn't heard a response from the community.
Between 300 and 500 people used village recreation programs in the past year, according to Heitman.
"Nobody ever wants to stop offering programs," Trustee Jim McDonald said. "But it's what we had to do."