Brookfield Village President Michael Garvey said during a budget workshop last Wednesday that he is urging the village’s Playground and Recreation Commission to begin building a case for the creation of a park district.
That campaign will begin at the commission’s meeting on May 3 at 7 p.m. at Brookfield village hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
“My plan is for the Rec Board at their May meeting to begin educating themselves and the public on what’s required,” Garvey said. “There has to be public support and input.”
For years, Recreation Commission members have bemoaned the lack of funding allocated for park improvements in Brookfield. And since 2003, the Recreation Department has been without a director. With one full-time and one part-time employee, staff say there’s little opportunity to expand program offerings or take on large-scale projects.
Mary Pezdek, who serves as the department’s program coordinator and de facto director, urged the board to clearly voice a direction on the formation of a park district, adding, “If we don’t start to think long term, the department will stay in the basement like it has for the last 80 years.”
“What would help me is some sort of plan,” Pezdek said. “Are we really going to move toward a park district? For a good part of the year we’re treading water. If there are demands [for more programs and events], I want that too, but where are we going to find the time to do that?”
Garvey said that, if there is public support for creating a park district, a referendum question could be put to voters as early as November or by spring of 2007. He said, he would prefer the impetus for the referendum to come from Brookfielders than from the village’s Board of Trustees.
Trustees could bring the question to the ballot through a vote, while residents can bring a referendum question to the ballot via petition.
“Let’s see if people support it through the referendum process,” Garvey said.
A park district, if created through referendum, would become a separate taxing body, imposing its own property tax for the maintenance of parks and operation of recreation programs and facilities.
Currently the Recreation Department’s operations are funded directly by the village board. And while the department does get some funding for park improvements and programming, according to Playground and Recreation Commission Chairman David LeClere, “there’s been nothing on a large scale. Most of the money has come from grants.”
The village has received two federal grants since 2003 for land acquisition and development of Jaycee/Ehlert Park.
LeClere said that by May the Playground and Recreation Commission will have gathered information on park districts from the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association, and commission members will also hear information about the process of forming a park district from the village’s legal counsel.
“It’s not as easy as you’d think,” LeClere said.
Then the commission would begin its campaign to educate voters and amass support, most likely through a citizens committee created specifically to boost the referendum. While LeClere said getting a question on the November ballot might be “pushing it,” he added, “If there’s enough support, that could be a possibility.”
Garvey announced his intention to jumpstart talks about a park district during a budget workshop discussion last Wednesday about funding and staffing levels for the village’s Recreation Department in fiscal year 2006-07, which begins May 1.
Noting that the budget for staffing was expected to remain the same, Trustee Michael Towner, the village board’s liaison to the Recreation Commission, asked whether Village Manager Riccardo Ginex had given any thought to reinstating the recreation director position.
Ginex responded that he was holding off on that issue since the commission had not yet decided whether to investigate the formation of a park district. Instead, the board agreed to have Ginex find money in the budget for an additional part-time Recreation Department employee to take some of the pressure off current staff.
That decision, said Garvey, highlighted why the village board and Recreation Commission needed to push for an up-or-down vote on behalf of residents for a park district.
“If this gets on the ballot and fails, this board will have to decide, do we want to increase funding for parks? If we want to increase funding, where do you want to take [money] out of, if we don’t have a park district?”