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Trolley, Forest City Queen, Sand Park Pool part of park district budget cuts

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — Three longtime attractions operated by the Rockford Park District will cease operations as part of $1 million in cuts to the organization’s 2018 budget.

The Forest City Queen riverboat and the park district’s trolleys will not be funded this year. And Sand Park Pool, at 1041 E. Riverside Blvd., will not open.

“Those are really expensive amenities for us to operate and what we’ve seen is the demand doesn’t quite rise to the expense of that operation,” Park District Board of Commissioners President Ian Linnaberry said Tuesday of the riverboat and trolley.

The trolley service, which also includes a road vehicle, could return in time for City Market, if backed by private funds.

District officials say while the board will hold the line on property taxes and maintain the 2017 tax levy, they don’t expect additional tax dollars in its operating funds.

The Forest City Queen, which began in 1979, needs $40,000 in repairs while Trolley Car 36 needs $10,000 worth of work. Those repairs are on top of the tax subsidy of $17,200 to operate both attractions. The district has seen a decline in demand for both attractions in recent years, too.

“Closing these amenities for 2018 has helped reduce the district’s deficit, but we want to talk to the community first before making decisions that go beyond 2018,” the district said in a release.

Closing Sand Park Pool is expected to save the park district more than $80,000. That’s because a variety of repairs to the concrete, fencing, and play features are needed at Penguin Pond, along with those in the baby pool, are estimated at $40,000. The district spends around $48,000 a year to maintain the facility.

Remediation of the former Sand Park landfill will continue in 2018. That project will span two years. It will remove the driving range and sledding hill to convert the property to a nature preserve per a 2015 agreement between the Rockford Park District, State of Illinois, City of Loves Park, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), and Browning-Ferris Industries.

Alpine Pool and Harkins Aquatic Center will continue to operate.

“A decline in revenue both through fees and a declining tax base, aging infrastructure, along with population and demographic shifts that impact our fee revenue have made it extremely difficult to provide the same level of service as in past years,” Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine said. “We are running out of ways to scale back our service without having a significant impact on the youth we serve.”

The park district’s 2018 operating budget is $33,923,236, and was $34,879,152 last year.  It’s 2018 capital budget is $19,791,482 and in 2017 was $24,563,354.

Other highlights of the 2018 budget include: one-week reduction of Music in the Park Summer Concert Series; elimination of indoor swimming lessons; expanded hours of operation at Washington Park Community Center; increased support for Rockford Park District Police; gaming machines at select facilities; and elimination of four open full-time positions. R.

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