“Park Board Broke Law” and “Erased Audiotape Violated Open Meetings Act” are the headlines in today’s JS. The Park may have violated the open meeting act but it also violated anyone with common sense, common sense. The attorney for the park said a “number of tapes were deleted.” Of course many were; who would just erase the most damaging tape without erasing a bunch of others to make it look like just a housecleaning act.
No one in the tax funded public sector erases a tape from an executive committee closed session without the approval from at least three entities: The administrator, the attorney and the full board.
The actions of the Peoria Park District in recent years indicate to the taxpayer that the park will do whatever they want to do, at whatever cost it takes and let the public revel in the after glow of all their good deeds. It is no secret who runs the park district and calls the shots; the park board president is a figurehead and three other members of the board make a majority. The other three remaining members might as well vote “present”.
I believe the community paying taxes to the park district does not realize what is happening. We all want good parks but the $48,800,000.00 budget this year is beyond most people’s comprehension. So is the approximately $35-37 million dollars now in outstanding bonds that are all accumulating more debt and must someday be paid off. A couple of years ago I predicted a park budget of $60 million dollars in 10 years. I move that up to $60 million dollars by 2010. The addition to the zoo will lose millions of dollars a year unless some philanthropist steps forward with a check for many millions of dollars.
The RiverPlex, if not for the park’s “creative accounting”, would show on “factual” accounting books as losing the equivalent of 4 to 5 thousand dollars a day. In all the years it has been open, it has never been able to meet even one payment on the large loans the park indebted itself with at the time of construction.
A simple equation will show that the new zoo addition when completed will lose large sums of money daily. Here are the facts: The Park claims to have 100,000 visitors a year and expects to increase attendance to 170,000 when the zoo is complete. That figure is in the parks own projections. The current zoo loses approximately $400,000.00 a year. If the new zoo would charge ALL visitors, school kids and all children, $10 a visit, which, of course if they do, they will find that is not be a fee that will be sustainable. Even then the total amount raised will be $1,700,000.00 plus concession sales of maybe $100,000.00 or less than $2,000,000.00. Most new ventures like zoos have an attendance fall off after the newness wears off.
It is a consensus that the most the new zoo could charge would be $8 per adult and maybe $4 dollars per child. Cash strapped school districts will not be sending bus loads of kids at even $4 dollars a visit. Based on a split of adults and kids at the $8 and $4 dollar levels would be 85,000 adults times $8 dollars or $680,000.00 and 85,000 kids at $4 dollars would bring in another $340,000.00 or a total of $1,200,000. 00, enough to cover principal and interest payment on the loan but not nearly enough to cover the massive new expenses for the overhead of maintaining a new structure with expensive exotic animals.
Park grounds, activities offered and maintenance have declined and fees have risen along with property taxes. The park recently said they received a million dollar grant from the state, a grant funded by tax dollars. The budget book states that “100 part time employees would; not be rehired.”
I believe that certain park officials sold District #150 on the idea of locating partially on park grounds so that the park administration could later on point to the increased number of visitors per year albeit on a no charge basis. District #150 board members have compiled a list of schools and parks sharing the same grounds. None of the examples I have read about are similar to what is being planned at Glen Oak Park.
Four park board positions are open this year. It would show total apathy of the community to not put candidates on the ballot that could be elected and would impel the administrator to report to the board the way tax supported public bodies are supposed to be operated.
If the JS was doing the job they should be doing they would ask to see a business plan. When the RiverPlex was built the JS was showing figures that by this time the operation would be operating in the black by hundreds of thousands of dollars. But than anyone can show a set of figures beforehand and get away with their wrong guesses unless the media or bloggers point out the facts. The JS who gets income from the park district appears to be reluctant to come forth with the facts.
Again, I say, wake up Peoria!