Sunday, November 30, 2008

Peoria Park District and the RiverPlex Continuing Saga's - Part 4

On 4/24.1998, JS reporter Michael Smothers wrote, "Health Clubs Slam Rec/Plex Funding", 'Planned riverfront facility called unfair competition'. Privately owned RiverCity asked "Why can't the city give me some tax money to fix our parking lot? If you want to get into the same business as us, fine. Just make it a level playing field and pay your taxes like we do. Otherwise, OSF and the PPD with the city's help, will be "horning" into the local health club business with significant advantage of millions in tax dollars in start-up money and no property tax overhead to meet." "That's unfair competition for large facilities and fatal for small health and fitness centers", said the manager of the Landmark Recreation Center.

Also, protesting were officials from the Downtown YMCA. A couple of years later the YMCA moved out of downtown much to the chagrin of their members. "YMCA closing angers members", wrote Elaine Hopkins of the JS. YMCA officials blamed the closing on competition with the RiverPlex. "The buzz in the locker room is that the RiverPlex is not all it's cracked up to be. It's overpriced", said Therry Adcock, a member for 30 years. So the RP lowered their prices to undercut the private health clubs.

On 10/09/2003, JS Sarah reporter wrote, "RiverPlex will lower rates", and the health and fitness center was being overhauled because of falling membership. On 10/8/03, the JS reported that the RP manager has been "moved to another position". Membership had dropped from 5462 members in 2002 to 3521 by October, 2003..

On 11/21/03, JS reporter Okeson wrote, "Patron: New RiverPlex rules aren't working out". 'Sliding memberships leading to scholarship cuts'." Present day manager Brent Wheeler complained that "no other facility does anything even close to this as far as scholarships", evidently forgetting the original agreement for the State's permission to even build the structure, an agreement that called for one third of memberships be poverty level and below. Even though the PPD and OSF signed a contract with the State of Illinois to secure permission to build the facilities, this contract later on declared "null and void" by attorney and PPD President Cassidy.

On 7/25/02, scholarship user time is reduced to these hours: 5 - 9 A.M., Monday - Friday and 7:00 - 10 P.M. with no restrictions on weekends. Later, hours were changed to Monday - Friday, 5:00 - 8:30 A.M. and 7:00 -9:30 P.M. Saturday and Sunday hours are 7:00 A.M. - 7:00 P.M. It was found that the scholarship "people" interfered with the "paying" clientele who raised a protest. These restrictions were not the intent of the agreement with the state.

On 12/10/03, JS reporter, Jennifer Davis wrote that after PPD president Cassidy was the lone vote against $3.1 million in new bonds, Cassidy explained his "new" positions as follows, "I do not like operational support in the bond issue". Davis then said, "Merle Widmer, who lost a bid for PPD president, had questioned why millions of dollars in general obligations bonds sold yearly, includes money to OPERATE AND REPAIR facilities instead of just money to buy equipment and pay for construction costs". On 3/17/03, Cassidy had said in a letter to the JSEB the following: "My opponent complains that the park is fiscally irresponsible because it sells bonds to finance park facilities and infrastructure". This was a total lie and the newspaper printed it as gospel and Cassidy waited until after the election to admit they were selling "slush" bonds.

They are still doing it today. On 1/15/04, the JS reported "the PPD approved $3.1 in general obligation bonds to be used partly for repairs throughout the district. So much for Cassidy's "noble" stand.

When I called Mike Bailey of the JSEB and asked that I be allowed to correct Mr. Cassidy, who also asked for the public vote because of my OPPOSITION to bonds, there would be no parks", I was told by Mike Bailey of the JSEB, that I'd had my say, even if what Mr. Cassidy said was not true. What I maintained and was supported by a local well known accountant that the park was NOT just using these bonds for "park facilities and infrastructure" as Cassidy claimed, "without these bonds there would be no golf courses, botanical gardens, zoo's, but was using them, as my accountant said, as a "slush fund" to dip into any time they needed some money for any type of expense. Treasurer Allen, who was present as we went over the books commented "well, we don't call it that".

On 3/25/03, JS reporter Okeson wrote, "Cassidy, at a new conference called by park officials, insisted the PDD is not selling bonds to subsidize RiverPlex operations." A falsehood. PPD officials (Treasurer Allen) would not allow me or my supporters to ask questions at this PPD news conference. I had previously held a new conference at which I allowed anyone to ask questions and speak. PPD president Cassidy spoke and said, Widmer was "distorting things and telling half-truths".

On 3/26/03, JS reporter Okeson wrote, "Widmer also attended the news conference, but Allen barred him from asking any questions.

Okeson's article also said that the PPD admitted to losses of $970,000 in 2002, yet in order to get more customers away from the tax paying private sector, they had to lower user costs to $33 a month for seniors and $80 a month for families. Today's rates are $100 initiation fee for any kind of memberships, $49.00 individual, $75.00joint and $80.00 for a family of 3 with an additional $5 per child up to $90.00.

Even though the JS had it in print, that I was "not opposed to selling bonds for facility structures and capital expenses" but I was opposed to selling new bonds every year; the money raised to be used as "slush" funds to make up any deficit in operations for the entire PPD, Bailey would not accept my "Letter to the editor" to refute Cassidy.

Especially, selling these bonds to operate the RiverPlex and charge these costs to other PPD funds. The PPD knew that by charging the RiverPlex including the 20 year principal and interest payments, would show that the RiverPlex badly missed their pre-construction projections.

Ever since the tax supported RiverPlex opened, private tax-paying health and fitness clubs are helping fund their competition, while TAKING millions of dollars from the private tax paying health and fitness sector. Money that could be used to update and improve their own facilities, while PAYING taxes on materials and equipment.

The PPD uses large numbers of part-time people avoiding paying union wages. Some worked at the Peoria County Court House grounds this summer.

Move on to Part 5.

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