Such a decision would overturn 73 years of precedent in Riverside, whose residents voted at that time to create a recreation system and whose board, pursuant to the law at that time, created an independent recreation board to oversee the expenditure of taxes collected to fund recreation.
At the same time, trustees unanimously agreed that the village manager should decide whether the Department of Parks and Recreation should remain a stand-alone department within village government or be folded into public works. Village Manager Peter Scalera appears to favor leaving the department alone, according to trustee statements Monday night.
And a broad majority of trustees also favors levying the minimum tax spelled out in the 1937 ordinance that created the recreation board. For the past two years, the board has levied half of that tax, a move that has led to cutbacks in recreation staffing and programs.
For President Michael Gorman and the board majority, the decision comes down to the village board having control over how all village tax money is spent. The only area where the village board does not control how money is allocated is recreation.
“What we have an obligation to do is manage real estate taxes in order to provide municipal services that all of us deserve,” Gorman said. “It is paramount that this board maintains the flexibility to make sure we don’t raise taxes and to deliver the municipal services you deserve and demand.”
Gorman said that while the village board should have the power to determine how the recreation levy is spent, he maintained that a new advisory commission created to replace the current recreation board would retain its statutory jurisdiction over recreation programming and use of designated park areas.
“The commission will retain the same authorities over programming and recreation areas,” Gorman said.
Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, who had a hand in drafting the plan to dissolve the recreation board, said that attempts to politicize the issue were wrong and that the village board had no intention of doing away with recreation in
“No one has ever discussed eliminating the recreation function in
Trustee Ben Sells, however, predicted that the move to eliminate the recreation board was the first step in dismantling recreation in the village.
“I think if we do this, it’s the start of starving our playgrounds and parks,” Sells said. “That’s why I think you need a protectorate.”
Trustee James Reynolds objected, saying Sells was “tarring us with a brush” before the board had made any decision about how to spend money collected for recreation purposes.
Sells responded, “I’ve seen a few strokes of that brush,” referring to a village board decision last year not to approve spending money for the repair and replacement of some park equipment identified by the park board.
Fourteen residents addressed the board regarding the change, none of them supporting the action.
Karen Layng, a former Plan Commission chairwoman, spoke at length. The 1937 ordinance, she said, deliberately took politics out of decisions for recreation spending and she questioned whether such a plan to dissolve the recreation board would pass a referendum of voters. She also maintained that the current ordinance already gives the village board watchdog powers over the rec board.
Despite the sentiment in the room against the majority consensus, Gorman stated trustees were responding to those concerns. He also stated that village board members had talked to others not present at the meeting who sided with the majority.
“Where is that support?” asked resident Rick Collins. “Why are they not here?”
The board is expected to hear the first reading of any new ordinance regarding parks and rec on Aug. 16. The first opportunity to vote for any change would come Sept. 19.