No second Rantoul Park District question on Nov. 8 ballot

RANTOUL — The deadline has passed for the Rantoul Park Board to place an advisory question on the Nov. 8 ballot asking for the public’s opinion of whether the village of Rantoul should assume ownership and operation of four parks while the park district retains Brookhill Golf Course and Brookhill Park.

The board thought it still had time to get the question on the ballot, but Monday was the final date for placement, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

Before realizing that Monday was the deadline, the park board had adjourned last week’s monthly meeting to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Rantoul Business Center to make a final decision on whether to go for the non-binding ballot initiative.

On Monday, park board attorney Bill Scott said he contacted members of the park board, and “there was no enthusiasm” for a proposal to hold a special meeting Monday so the issue could still appear on the ballot.

Even so, the park board plans to hold an adjourned meeting Thursday, possibly to discuss the matter with village officials and decide how to publicize the options.

At last week’s meeting, the park board wanted some answers before it made a decision. Answers to questions such as, “What if the voters say ‘yes,’ but the village declines to take the property?”

Officially, village trustees or administrators had taken no position on the proposal, thus making things murky for the park board.

Park board member Terry Shepherd said during last week’s meeting he was backing off somewhat a desire to place a referendum on the ballot.

“I’ve become less inclined to give the parks over to the village at this time,” Shepherd said. “They don’t seem to be a willing recipient.”

Shepherd said he also agrees that having all park land being taken over by the village while the park district retains the golf course and nearby park sends the wrong message.

“I think it (provides) an opportunity to say, ‘You can’t run the parks; you probably can’t run a golf course,’” Shepherd said. “And it also gives ... an opportunity to ask, ‘Do you really want a park district to just run a golf course?’”

An organization calling itself Friends of Rantoul’s Parks will have a question on the ballot asking voters if the park district should be dissolved.

Shepherd said he was more inclined for the park board to attempt to educate the voters to what will happen if they vote to dissolve the park district than to go for a second question on the ballot.

A member of the public, Marv Ideus, said he had some questions.

“As a taxpayer — and my understanding that there’s going to be a vote on whether to dissolve the park district or not — I would like to know if the voters vote to dissolve the park district, what happens to the property that the park district is in charge of?”

Park district attorney Bill Scott said based on his research, the property goes to the village.

“But what if the village doesn’t want it?” Ideus said.

“That’s a good question,” Scott said. “There’s not a provision for that in the statute.”

Ideus said he believes taxpayers should be entitled to know and added, “The comment has been made that our taxes are going to go down (if the village takes over operation of the parks). They’re not going to go down.”

Ideus said he has also been told that because the golf course is outside the village limits, the village does not have to take it.

“Nobody’s showed me that chapter and verse,” Scott responded.

“There’s so much misinformation. I’d like to know what the correct information is,” Ideus said.

Scott said the park board is treading on territory few, if any, have trod.

“This is not something that happens every day,” Scott said, “so there’s not a lot of legal history.”

The park board has considered the property transfer issue because Brookhill Golf Course has been losing great sums of money in recent years. It continues to lose money despite cuts in staff and other expenses.

An effort to trade Brookhill to Kevin Applebee, owner of Willow Pond Golf Course, proved unsuccessful when the park district was informed that it must maintain all the property or equivalent property for recreational purposes because a government grant was awarded for purchase of the Brookhill land in the 1970s.

But turning the property into some other type of recreational facility such as a walking trail and maintaining it would be costly as well.

One question is, if the village should agree to take ownership of the park district property, could it legally take only the parks and not the 160-acre golf course?

Scott said it must be determined what the village’s plans are for the parks if the village takes them over.

Conversely, the park board needs to inform what its plans are if it retains all the property.

In addition to parks, the park district owns farmland next to the golf course and on Murray Road in west Rantoul. Legally, the park district cannot sell that land without a referendum. If the land reverts to the village, it can sell the land without a vote from the public, Scott said.

Park board member Rich Thomas said it is his impression that the village would be willing to take some of the parks if it could get rid of some of the other land.

In the treasurer’s report, Jason Bartell said the district “had a pretty good month last month.”

The general fund balance is $106,120 with bills to be paid totaling $23,485. Balance in the bond fund is $89,424. Bills to be paid out of the bond fund total $8,289.

As of the end of July, the pro shop income is up by $2,733 while the snack bar income is down $2,728.

Bartell said total golf course income is down $5,720, but total expenses are down $35,559, which makes for a net loss of $31,505 this year compared to $61,344 last year.

Payroll is down by $12,689 while pro shop expenses are up $9,500 mainly because of golf merchandise purchases. Bartell said maintenance costs declined by $32,811 mainly from less chemicals and irrigation.

The board also approved allowing Brookhill Superintendent Dan Cook to use the park district truck to travel to work and back from his home in Danville because his truck is in poor mechanical shape.

 

Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation

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