For six days last week, a lot of info flowed from and through the Journal Star requesting some answers from the PPD as to why many recreational facilities are in such poor physical shape and why so many PPD programs are mismanaged under the parks leadership. Let’s review some facts. The 2007 budget for the district is $49,800,000.00 so progress shouldn’t be hindered by lack of money. Compare Kansas City, Missouri with a population of approximately 600,000 and a budget for 2007 of $56.5 million for their Park District. KC maintains approximately 213 parks and 132 miles of boulevards. PPD's answer, don't expect too much too soon.
Here is some history that I have reported on previous blogs dated 10/20/05, 2/1/06 and 2/2/06. The JS reported on 12/12/03 that Administrator Noble said, when asked about the lack of quality softball sites in Peoria, “board members have been working on this for several months and this PPD project could provide Peoria with enough fields to host the Girls National Softball Association’s Regional fast-pitch tournament. These fields were to be located at 11418 N. Rt. 91, land that the PPD acquired from Bradley in 2003 in a swap for Meinen Field. 2006 has come and gone and there are no PPD Softball Parks even under construction. The County Recorders office shows this site claimed by President Cassidy as owned by the PPD is actually owned by Bradley University who bought a total of 162 acres of farmland for $2,197,910.00 or $13,000.00 an acre. (On 6/18/07 Steve Tarter of the JS, quoting experts, wrote “an acre of good Central Illinois farmland now sells for about $6,000.”) So Bradley paid about $7,000.00 an acre over the going price and took a mortgage out to pay for the land. All on record in the County Courthouse. The JS reported on 8/26/04 “BU arranges land swap with Park District – PPD gets 80 acres near Rt. 91 in exchange for Meinen Field.”
The park district does not own any land out along Rt. 29 close to Fox Rd. Hmmmmm.
On 2/2/06, Administrator Noble is quoted in the JS “the PPD is seeking state grants to start building a $1.5 million dollar top level sports complex on 80 acres of land it owns out on Rt.91.” It doesn’t own 80 acres out “north”. Look it up at the Recorders office. And why state grants (more taxpayer money) when the park continually says it is fiscally sound?
The park district's administrator is the park district She is the one to be held accountable since the board is a rubber stamp and the President is basically a figurehead. Remember the RecPlex debate that appeared in the JS on 3/21/99? President Cassidy is quoted as saying “There would be no required membership fees.” Fact: There always have been membership fees from the day the newly named RiverPlex opened. Cassidy continues, “The $10 million bond borrowed to build the RiverPlex (its actual cost was around $21 million) most, if not all, will be paid thru RecPlex operations”. Fact: The RiverPlex operations have never paid a single dime of the principle and interest on the $10 million bond. Each year new bonds are sold to pay the principle and interest of the RiverPlex, the Golf Learning Center, Logan Pool and other facilities while some payments are made on older bonds or short term bonds. By contrast Peoria County owes approximately $7 million in principle and interest on outstanding bonds, most coming from the borrowing to build the jail and juvenile complex on Maxwell.
On 6/16/07, Roger Allen, PPD Trustee, is quoted in the JS “Even if the RP needs a “small subsidy’ in the beginning, it should be operating in the black in a couple of years.” According to projections, Superintendent Noble said that “of the 17,028 households that showed an interest in the RP, most of these households are likely to join the RP. The RP should show a profit of $515,494 by 2006 with only 5000 members.” Fact: The RP lost $7,000,000,000.00 in the first 40 month of operation and more than $1,000,000,000.00 in 2006. (The financial statement shows the fitness center lost more than $600,000.00 in 2006, one half of the loss shared by OSF.)I have heard that OSF is not a happy camper over the susposed money making Fitness Center. And the original RP Construction fund is still carrying a million dollar plus deficit.
Currently, the PPD has approximately $27 million dollars in outstanding bonds including interest. The 2006 financial reports shows only $18 million but that does not include $12.3 million in new bonds and interest issued in January of 2007. Nor does it include some short term bonds, approxsimately $3 million that are being paid off in 2007.
The recent series of articles in the JS points out the serious flaws in PPD planning and administrating. Blame of many of the failures is correctly placed on the departed Rick Robbins, but Robbins reported to Dennis Mantick who directly reports to the Administrator.
The buck stops at the top. Rule out the mostly newly elected board. They have relinquished their power to the administrator. Don’t count on any major changes without a major increase in property taxes or more bonds. Expect things to change only after the property taxpayer learns how much the zoo expansion is going to cost them on top of all else. Simple arithmetic: the park plans to boost zoo attendance from 100,000 to 170,000. 70,000 times an average of $10 per admittance (admittance averages about $3.90 currently) is only $700,000 more income with the expanded zoo. The old zoo loses approx. $400,000.00 per year, a figure that recently shocked a major contributor who said he was unaware the current zoo loses any money.
Shock and awe from the PPD coming in the very near future? Unless a major contributor steps forward soon, bet on it.