Urbana residents to vote on tax raise

By Crystal Kang

Urbana homeowners will be able to vote on a referendum in April that seeks taxpayers’ dollars to help the Urbana Park District maintain its resources.

If the referendum passes, Urbana property owners must pay an additional 15 cent/$100 fee, on top of the adjusted tax rate of 68 cents/$100, to cover the cost of maintaining resources such as park district programs, recreational facilities, parks and nature trails.

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Despite the economic downturn, paying up could mean giving back.

“Of all the taxes that you pay, the ones you pay to the park district is something you see used every day,” said Vicki Mayes, executive director of the Park District. “When you walk into a recreational program, you know what your taxes have been used for. When you see a beautiful flower, you know what your taxes have been used for. What you pay for goes right back to the (local) economy. Every penny we spend stays right here in the community.”

The property tax increase is necessary because the park district’s revenues cannot keep up with the increasing cost of maintenance, said Park Board Commissioner Michael Walker.

“Essentially what we’re proposing doing is to avoid making significant cuts,” Walker said. “We’ve used up all our reserves, and we’ve already made cuts. We’re maintaining the level of quality in park systems that (the) citizens of Urbana have been accustomed to.”

The revenue generated would allow the park district to create new trail projects, have a pool of money to match for grants and help upgrade the equipment and facilities, Walker said. He added that the park district could “begin to attack the huge backlog of different maintenance issues.”

This 15-cent increase in revenues is modest in comparison to the 25-cent tax hike that the park district proposed in February 2008, Mayes said.

“With the 25-cent (increase), we would’ve had an aggressive preventive maintenance program to build new trails and take care of our parks,” Mayes said. “The 15 cents, what it will do is (create) a modest maintenance program to keep our parks from further deteriorating and allow us to keep (our) current services.”

She added that the park district will not have to cut or eliminate positions, but there will not be enough money to build a new pool in Crystal Lake Park.

“We had a referendum question on the February 2008 ballot that was a 25-cent rate that included an aggressive preventive maintenance program and replacing the Crystal Lake Park pool,” Mayes said.

The swimming pool at Crystal Lake Park was built in 1981. This year, the park district closed it down because “it’s old enough that it’s not safe anymore,” Mayes said.

The park district conducted a detailed survey asking the residents what kinds of programs and services they needed. The original 25-cent tax increase would have allowed the park district to move forward and answer most of the residents’ requests, Mayes said. Now, there are some limitations.

“(The residents) wanted us to restore more natural areas and build more trails and make improvements to Crystal Lake Park,” Mayes said. “The 25 cents would help … but the 15 cents won’t. The 15 cents will let us partner with other (local government units). If we partner, it just means we increase opportunities for our citizens.”

With the ballot a month away, Walker said the economic situation may deter citizens from voting for the referendum.

“Times are hard (for) folks, and we need to be conservative,” Walker said. “We’re also in a situation where we’re going to feel a real diminishment in the system if we (don’t vote).”