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Guest Column: Leveraging resources successfully

March 3, 2010

Editor’s note: The Rock River Times considers the Rockford Park District, by far, the most responsive and responsible local government institution in handling public monies. Our tax dollars are very strategically invested and spent. The Rockford Park District’s targeting of projects and the thriftiness of budgeting show the highest level of fiduciary caution. More than any other public entity, the Rockford Park District solicts feedback, respects the opinions of taxpayers, and really acts accordingly to our wishes. This paper invited the park district to discuss its financial philosophy and offers this presentation to our readers with great pleasure and appreciation.

By Tim Dimke
Executive Director, Rockford Park District

The Rockford Park District Board and staff are deeply committed to bringing substantial returns on your tax dollar investment and to maintaining long-term financial sustainability. There are several financial strategies consistently implemented to position our community for a successful, productive, and healthy future.

Balanced budgeting and spending

Basic financial obligations are consistently met by developing an annual balanced budget. The District has done so for the past 101 years. The District maintains adequate fund balances so there has not been a need for short-term borrowing. Even when faced with tougher-than-ever economic issues or weather-related challenges, and when projected program revenues have been unmet, budgets and expenditures were adjusted to balance the overall budget. The Rockford Park District staff has made painful, deep cuts while delivering balanced budgets. It is our obligation and commitment to deliver services within available financial resources.

Capital projects

The District’s bond rating has been A-1 for funding capital improvements, and 80 percent of these bond funds have been used for repair and replacement of existing facilities and parks. About $4 million per year are allocated for such capital projects. These projects have included repairing recreation paths, neighborhood tennis courts, golf course equipment, and playground replacements.

With a majority of tax resources allocated for repair and replacement of capital projects, there have not been adequate available resources for new capital projects. The public’s tax investment for new capital projects, over the last four years, was approximately $3 million. Due to creative leveraging opportunities, the District completed or initiated capital projects that totaled $30 million over the past four years. The $27 million difference included revenues from competitive grants, private donations, and public-private partnerships.

Some of the new capital projects included the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, Midway Village’s expansion, Loves Park Playground, Olson Park, Roy Gayle Sports Complex, Puri Park, Kaye Anderson Park, improvements at the Cherry Valley Flodin Boys and Girls Club, Southwest Community Park, the Riverside Boulevard/Highway 5 recreation path, and Riverfront Museum Park’s campus expansion. The staff managed to leverage, 10-to-1, tax dollars for new capital projects with other revenue sources.

Some examples of how the staff has managed to leverage resources include the Roy Gayle sports complex project, which serves 1,400 youth annually. This new capital project was 100 percent funded through state grants and private donations, at approximately $1.25 million. The Nicholas Conservatory, over a $10 million project, is currently funded at 96 percent with private donations. The remaining 4 percent will be obtained through fund-raising initiatives and/or grants. Puri Park, a neighborhood park in southeast Rockford, is being funded primarily by a state grant and a developer’s donation of land and cash, totaling about $500,000.

These projects are only a few of the new capital projects that add to the community’s quality of life. Further, these projects will attract tourists to the region, creating economic impact within our community.

Programs and services

In addition to capital projects, leveraged resources are also applied to recreational programs. Volunteer organizations like Rockford Pony Baseball/Softball at Roy Gayle Sports Complex, Rockford Little League, Boys & Girls Clubs, Ken-Rock and Harlem community centers operate and maintain the 38 Park District-owned baseball fields that serve more than 6,300 youth with high-quality sports leagues. Additionally, there are a multitude of soccer clubs, figure skating and hockey clubs, and other similar groups that provide volunteer support to implement programs.

The District’s museums are yet another example of doubling return on investment. The District collects about $2 million in taxes to support Tinker Swiss Cottage, Burpee Natural History Museum, Midway Village Museum, and Riverfront Museum consisting of the Discovery Center, Rockford Art Museum, Dance Company, Symphony, and public radio. The collective museums generate about $5 million in revenues from user fees, grants, donations, and other funding sources for their operations.

Awards

The District staff operates with continuous improvement practices and processes. Our operational, tactical, and strategic procedures have been reviewed and affirmed through accreditation, evaluation methods, and awards of distinction. During the past 27 years, the District has received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers’ Association 26 times.

The District has been a finalist in the National Gold Medal Awards program four times, and twice has won the prestigious national award for excellence in parks and recreation administration.

The District has earned the Illinois Association of Park Districts Distinguished Agency Award for accreditation in 2008. This award affirms that the general management, financial management, facilities management, personnel management, and legal management are operating at superior levels.

Partnerships

There are more than 100 partnership groups associated with the District including Friends of Lockwood Park, who contribute volunteer hours reducing labor expenses. Additionally, there are Dog Park volunteers, advisory committees, and a multitude of sports clubs who provide District staff with expert guidance and program assistance. These quality services, offered by dedicated citizens, saved an estimated $500,000 in labor costs in fiscal year 2009.

Over the past two years, a Financial Advisory Committee composed of seven professionals volunteered their expertise to review and analyze our long-term financial outlook. This committee gave the board recommendations to consider for addressing future funding gaps. The first year of implementing the recommendations resulted in more than $900,000 in savings and approximately $600,000 in new revenues.

Conclusion

The financial data indicate that the Rockford Park District is giving taxpayers a substantial return on their tax investment. We will continue to leverage our public funds by obtaining grants, donations, and sponsorships. We will continue to partner with organizations and citizens to offer quality services. We will continue to pursue continuous improvement awards and recognition to verify that our decisions reflect practices of excellence.

It is hoped that you agree that the Rockford Park District Board and staff are wisely investing and bringing strong investment returns, thus assuring future financial viability and sustainability for the District and enhancing quality of life in our community.

 From the Mar. 3-9, 2010 issue

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