Plainfield Park Board backs off budget cuts
By Frank Vaisvilas Correspondent July 24, 2013 9:54PM
People look on during a rally before a specially called Plainfield Park District board meeting at the parks offices in Plainfield, Illinois on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The community spent much of the past week focused on the controversial hiring of a village official to lead the parks agency. The meeting was cancelled. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 26, 2013 4:31PM
PLAINFIELD — The Plainfield Park District Board has backed away from an increasingly controversial plan to slash $800,000 from its budget.
“Instead of simply cutting the money, we’re reinvesting in the park (district),” said Park Commissioner Janet Silosky during Wednesday’s meeting. “I hope this will dispel some of the concern that people had.”
It’s a concern that had been growing since April, when new commissioners were elected, and in May when Garrett Peck was appointed as executive director.
That appointment triggered a protest rally of about 40 people who questioned Peck’s qualifications and whether there were other viable candidates.
Wednesday’s meeting was moved to the Plainfield police courtroom to accommodate the anticipated large audience, which turned out to be about 80 people.
Initially, the two newly elected commissioners, Peck and park board President Peter Hurtado, decided to immediately look at making cuts and reducing taxes.
Much of the proposed cuts would have come from reducing the district’s contingency fund.
Park district spokesman Doug Booth said about 35 percent the district’s budget, or $4 million of $11.2 million, was being held in the bank as a contingency fund. He said normal business practice is to keep a contingency fund of 5 to 10 percent.
However, Commissioner Mary Ludemann, who did not face re-election in April, believes drastically reducing the contingency fund would hurt the district’s credit rating and its ability to apply for grants.
Although money would not be cut from the budget, some of the contingency fund money still would be used for park improvements and salary raises. Ludemann and the other commissioner who did not face re-election in April, Larry Newton, voted against the revised plan.
Superintendent of Parks Gene Coldwater said he was worried many of his experienced employees would quit because of their low salaries, and Peck addressed his concern.
Many of the audience members still had questions and concerns which they addressed during the public comment of the meeting.
Rob Ayres questioned why the budget for legal fees was increased by $50,000 this year.
Given the increase in complaints with the attorney general’s office, Peck said the board has to pay more in legal fees.
“It seems like every time the board meets, there’s a complaint with the attorney general’s office,” Peck said. “Essentially, we have to pay our attorney to handle these complaints whether they’re founded or unfounded.”
He said if the funding is not used, it would be reappropriated.