The cold, rainy weather in June forced the Park District of Forest Park to close its swimming pool for half of the days last month, disappointing patrons who were looking forward to soaking up the sun or doing back flips off the diving board.
The bad weather also affected the Park’s bottom line.
“In the summer we usually average about 725 visitors to the pool each day,” said Larry Piekarz, the park district director. “Last month the average was only 350.”
According to Piekarz, the income generated by the pool this year between Memorial Day and the middle of July was $25,295, compared to $39,000 for the same period last year.
In 2014, revenue from season passes was $124,000. This year the sales totaled $117,757.
“When the weather is bad in May, it even affects the number of season passes that are sold,” Piekarz said.
Piekarz said making a profit is not the park district’s goal. Nevertheless, he said, the park district board takes very seriously its stewardship of the taxpayers’ money.
Taxes, he said, are the main source of revenue for the park district, and it’s revenue the board knows they are getting in advance. What’s unpredictable is revenue from fees for programs. That revenue determines whether the park district finishes its fiscal year in the red or in the black.
“Three summers ago,” he said, “we were closed for only one day the whole summer.”
Attendance was up and, therefore, so was revenue.
“As far as the pool goes, it’s been a tough summer,” he said. “We budget for that. We budget with the possibility of revenue being down 20 percent for one reason or another.”
The pool is expensive to operate. Aside from the cost of utilities and maintenance, it costs $125 an hour to staff the pool — 12 to 14 people altogether, including staff at the admissions window, lifeguards and managers.
Piekarz worries about how shutting down the pool affects his staff as well as the bottom line.
“For a lot of the kids who work at the pool, it’s their first job,” Piekarz said. “We’re trying to teach them the right things to do in the workplace, so if I don’t have work for them, I feel bad about that. I also feel bad that they’re not getting paid. This is their summer job and many depend on the income to pay for school.”
Rachel Entler, the park district’s recreation supervisor, said that the suspension or elimination of funding from the state of Illinois has cut into the funding for programs outside of the pool.
For example, at the beginning of the year, the state stopped funding a program which gave grants to parents for daycare. Although the funding did not go directly to the park district, it nevertheless made it impossible for some parents to have their children in daycare.
“A lot of parents depend on us to take care of their kids after school,” said Piekarz. “The state is not in good shape. No one is faulting them for making some tough decisions, but at the same time they have to be fair. The people who are affected the most by the cuts in funding are the ones who need it the most.”
Piekarz said that the park district does offer some financial aid for those who need it. He said that a single mom making $8.25 an hour simply can’t afford to pay for daycare. When that happens a parent can fill out a form, and after verifying that the need is real, money is available from the Park District Foundation or the park district’s budget.
Entler said that another program which has been cut was one funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Last year DNR staff came to the park district and taught the kids archery and fishing. They taught the kids how to cast and then took them to a lake in a forest preserve in the southern part of Cook County. That won’t happen this year.
Piekarz said most people know that the $3.9 million which had been awarded to the park district to clean up the Roos property has been suspended.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do about that,” he said. “We have a board meeting on Aug. 6 at which we will explore what we can do without the grant money we had planned on.”
This year the park district has found itself in the middle of a perfect storm, so to speak. In addition to the loss of grant money and income from the pool, the No Gloves Nationals softball tournament is scheduled for this weekend, right on the heels of Music Fest.
Piekarz worries that following Music Fest might decrease income from concessions this weekend. Although the revenue from the No Gloves event only accounts for 1 to 2 percent of the park district’s budget, Piekarz said it wouldn’t hurt for everyone to turn out for the tournament, get together with friends and maybe buy an extra beer.