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RANTOUL — The village of Rantoul and the Rantoul Park District appear to be moving closer to a possible village management agreement of Brookhill Golf Course.
At a meeting last week, village representatives appeared open to consider the idea and asked park officials to present a formal management proposal. The park board might formulate or vote on such a formal proposal at a meeting this week.
Both sides agreed the village could probably operate Brookhill more economically than the park district has been doing in recent years.
“We’re hoping through some economies of scale, because of existing management staff (the village has) in place that we can save the taxpayers some money, operate Brookhill at a loss that is less than last year ... (and at) what it would cost to run an outdoor public recreation area,” said Bill Scott, park board secretary and legal counsel.
The park district receives local and replacement tax funds totaling $245,000 a year and paid the village $85,000 to maintain all of its parks other than Brookhill last year.
Scott said the park district could possibly pay an additional $70,000 for the village to maintain Brookhill and would have about $90,000 left for park improvements and programs.
“We’d be able to cut down the money we have to spend maintaining Brookhill,” park board member Rich Thomas said. “We can put that money back into the park system, which we have not been able to as much as we want for several years. ... Several parks could use some upgrades.”
While the park district paid the village $85,000 last year to maintain Maplewood Sports Complex, Mary Alice Park, a share of Wabash Park and Eden Park, which is owned by American Lutheran Church, Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh said it wasn’t as if the village received cash for that maintenance.
“You gave us $10,000 for the youth center, but the rest was really in-kind by buying equipment and things like that,” Fiegenschuh said.
The administrator wanted clarification on whether the park district’s bond money receipts would have to go back into the parks through capital purchases. He said he and Recreation Superintendent Luke Humphrey were concerned about that issue.
Scott said that is not a requirement.
“The statute is clear the purpose for which the bonds are issued (include) maintaining the parks. The statute expressly allows that,” Scott said.
The village and park district have worked with a maintenance handshake agreement in the past, but both sides said a written agreement is necessary if the village is to maintain the golf course.
Thomas said in the past, the park district has provided the capital for the village parks.
“Virtually every playground in town was bought by the park district,” Thomas said. “I know because I was (with) the recreation district. The park district built the baseball field (used by the high school). Wabash Park, they built the parks and playground there.”
Thomas said the arrangement between the park district and village has been “very complicated, but it’s worked very well” with no duplication of services.
Meanwhile, Thomas said the village’s role has been maintaining the parks as well as providing all of the parks and recreation programming for many years.
The problem has come in recent years when the park district has lost so much money into the golf course due to declining use.
Thomas said the problem has not been due to the cost of maintenance. Expenses there have been cut every year for the last five years.
“It’s de-escalating revenue. And it’s gone down steadily everywhere,” Thomas said. “I know a couple of courses around here had their worst years ever, and last year was a good year to play golf.”
Park board member Debbie Schmidt said it will also be important to market children’s and women’s activities, which she said the park district has not done a good job of doing.
Scott said that would be another benefit of having the village maintain the course. And Thomas cited the growing membership numbers at Forum Fitness Center and the ample use of the youth center as examples.
Thomas said the Recreation Department has the staff expertise to maintain the golf course for large-volume mowing.
“Some of it is specialized grass, but it’s still mowing,” Thomas said.
Humphrey, who was not at the meeting, said the Recreation Department has staff members with turf management backgrounds.
Thomas said management of the pro shop would also be necessary.
Thomas also asked Fiegenschuh if the village will be able to provide IT and bookkeeping/payroll services. Fiegenschuh said he won’t commit any village staff to do that, but he will look into it.
The two sides are working on a short time frame with spring approaching.
Fiegenschuh asked whether the park board would want current golf course staff to remain.
“We defer to the village’s decision-making,” Scott responded.
Also representing the village at the meeting were board member Ken Turner and Mike Daugherity from the planning and zoning commission.
The park board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Rantoul Business Center.