Elgin council focusing on park improvements during 2022 budget deliberations
Recognizing that the pandemic has put renewed emphasis on local parks, Elgin City Council members have made them a priority in 2022 budget discussions.
Recent community surveys ranked the Elgin parks system as one of the most appreciated amenities the city offers. Problem is, according to city officials, they need about $16 million in repairs and the parks department's budget is running at about a $5 million deficit annually. Mayor David Kaptain said that none of the other ideas he and council members suggested for a projected $2.8 million budget surplus resonated in the community like improving parks.
"That's a big issue for this community (that) touches every citizen within the community," he said.
Council members held preliminary votes Wednesday on a pair of measures to amend the proposed budget to address the problem, voting 9-0 in favor of issuing $5 million in bonds for park repairs and upgrades and 7-2 in favor of imposing a special recreation levy.
Parks Superintendent Greg Hulke told council members almost half of the city's 46 playgrounds have equipment between 15 and 30 years old. The average life span for the equipment is 15 years. New playground equipment will cost about $350,000 per park.
That's about $7 million to update all the parks in the city to their recommended life spans.
Hulke said the tab grows if he tries to add other oft-requested amenities such as pickleball courts ($260,000 for a four-court setup), half-court basketball rounds ($55,000) and new shelters at Lords Park and Wing Park ($200,000 each).
Parks and recreation director Maria Cumpata said the budget deficit has been caused by a variety of factors, including increased cost of utilities and commodities and the minimum wage increase.
"These increases are not going to go away," she said. "We need to look at other revenue sources."
Cumpata said a special recreation tax levy would add about $33 to the property tax bill of a home valued at $248,000, the median market value of a home in Elgin as of September.
The city can levy the tax under state law because it is a member of the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. Cumpata said money from the levy could then be used to pay the $480,000 annual NISRA dues in 2022, as well as a number of ADA-approved projects that will free up money from the department's operational fund.
The $5 million bond issuance would be Elgin's first since 2016, when it borrowed $15 million for street repairs. Elgin's Chief Financial Officer Deb Nawrocki said the new bonds would be repaid over 10 years with 1.4% interest.
"I think this would be money well spent," council member Tish Powell said. "Bottom line, this really will help us catch up on a lot of that maintenance and work that needs to be done in our parks."
Kaptain agreed with taking the bonds now while interest rates are low as part of a three-pronged approach, including using some of the budget surplus and the special recreation levy.
"This is going to pay us dividends in the long run," Kaptain said. "Let's do this is an investment for the long term that satisfies virtually every segment of our community."