The Chicago Park District sustained a loss of $100 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reported District General Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly during a Nov. 18 Park District Board of Commissioners meeting.
Kelly said that much of the loss resulted from the cancellation of special events and reductions in program fees during 2020. He proposed mitigation measures in the 2021 budget to counteract the continuing losses in revenue that are anticipated, including the elimination of over 100 vacant full-time equivalent roles, three shutdown days, the maintenance of a hiring freeze through June, and cost savings through reductions in contractual services and materials and supplies expenses in individual Park District departments.
The proposed 2021 budget, $481.8 million, is estimated to be $5.8 million (1.2%) lower than the budget adopted for 2020. The 2021 budget will be voted upon by the Board during its December 2 meeting.
Operating budgets for individual parks in Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn will be, on average, 4.5% lower in 2021 than in 2020. This decrease is greater than the average operating budget decrease — 2.2% — for all individual parks in the North, Central and South administrative regions of the Park District.
In addition to the funds saved through the mitigation efforts, the Park District anticipates increased property tax revenues in 2021 through the retirement of several Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and changes in assessed property values. Referring to the property tax rate, Superintendent Kelly said, “We (were) able to balance the (2021) operating budget without a property tax hike.”
Itemized operating budgets for individual parks in Chicago are listed in the proposed 2021 budget only for those parks that have a park supervisor office onsite. A park supervisor often manages more than one park. Nine parks in the Hyde Park/Kenwood/Woodlawn neighborhood have itemized budgets. The supervisors of those nine parks manage a total of forty parks in the neighborhood; a couple of the nine manage additional parks outside the neighborhood or manage parks principally outside the neighborhood.
Changes in the published itemized 2021 budgets from the 2020 budgets for individual neighborhood parks with park supervisor offices on site range from a 0.4% increase for Midway Plaisance Park to a 13.8% decrease for Kennicott Park. Ellis Park will have a 6.8% decrease; Harris Park a 1.7% decrease; Jackson Park a 2.3% decrease; Kenwood Park a 0.2% increase; Nash Community Center a 4.8% decrease; Nichols Park a 1.9% decrease; the South Shore Cultural Center a 5.2% decrease; Washington Park a 6.8% decrease.
The budget increases and decreases are reflected primarily by changes in personnel services costs. The most drastic changes, however, are reflected by changes in contractual service costs and program expenses. Contractual services in Hyde Park/Kenwood/Woodlawn parks will be cut in the 2021 budget by an average of 61.3%; program expenses will be cut by 65.3%. Contractual services include outside landscaping services that do much of the work in the Chicago Park District.
Stephanie Franklin, president of the Nichols Park Advisory Council said that she “was really hoping that if they did nothing else, they would at least do something for our water system," though she didn't yet know if funds earmarked for that purpose were included in the budget.
Franklin explained that when the Nichols Park Field House was constructed, it “screwed up the sprinkler system.” The Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference has spent thousands of dollars on planting in the formal garden of Nichols Park, said Franklin.
As Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council reflected on the budget cuts and on the effects of the pandemic within the park, she first thought of the improvements to the softball and baseball diamonds that had been planned. “Some of it has been taken care of,” she said.
But then her thoughts turned to the neighborhood teens who had been anticipating summer jobs that they didn’t get. “I am disappointed in the way things have turned out,” she said. “The summer is the biggest time. There was no money coming in.”
The proposed 2021 budget can be seen at chicagoparkdistrict.com/about-us/departments/budget-and-management.