By Karen Cornelius
The Finance Committee of Vermilion City Council met on Monday, July 10. Council members asked for a review of an ordinance on their agenda to send a new, continuing one-mill tax levy to the boards of election for the voters to decide at the general election to be held on November 7. The levy would be used for maintenance, operation, and improvement of the parks, and would generate $269,026 per year.
Councilwoman Barb Brady said she asked for this review because she thought the request for the levy from the Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board was just thrown before them without knowing the numbers. She wanted to know how much from the city’s general fund budget was in Parks Maintenance for 2017. Finance director Brian Keller said it was $164,000. She asked if they were taking the $164,000 back into the general fund with no basic direction and if they could use $150,000 of that to put into Permissive Use for roads. She said she wasn’t comfortable throwing $164,000 back into the general fund.
Mayor Eileen Bulan responded that Parks Maintenance would still need this general fund money in addition to the levy if it passes. She said there are plans to have enough funds to hire a full-time parks director. She said the city has 50 acres of parks. “We need the general fund money, parks are big.” The mayor asked council to be cautious.
From the audience, part-time parks supervisor Dana Corogin and Parks board member Brad Scholtz were present to answer any questions. Corogin said the board has been talking about a levy since 2013. “We know we need additional funds.” Corogin said the parks are for all ages, they help with tourism, and create a better place to live. They help everyone, the schools. “We need to attract people to Vermilion, and to create programs. There’s a lot more to be done,” said Corogin. Parks enhance recreation, health and fitness. Right now to accomplish future goals, the board needs this $164,000 in addition to the levy. Corogin said once they get a system in place and can bring in more money through fees and grants, they could free up some of the general fund money.
Corogin stated while there are major parks there is a lot of municipal property that is not being maintained such as the ends of streets to the lake. She said the courthouse and police station are atrocious and lack attention. She added Vermilion has no rec building for people to come to and what the department does have is really bad. She said the parks garage has no heat and no water so its hard to work on equipment. “We have the bones and the potential, and sky is the limit,” said Corogin. “We’d like to see our parks improve.”
Parks board member Scholtz acknowledged there is a lot of competition for the city’s general fund money and they never dared to ask for more. The problem is they can’t maintain anything and with this levy they could have a sustainable fund so they wouldn’t have to compete for general fund money. “When we’re sustainable, we can give it back.” Corogin explained the current levy can only be used for captial projects with a life of five years or more and cannot be used for maintenance. They hesitate to add new projects because there’s no money to maintain them. She said the five-years is a gray area such as removing bad trees, putting roofs on pavilions, fixing the gazebo, or constructing a pickle ball court and asphalt on the tennis courts.
Councilwoman Brady said she just didn’t understand at first and wanted residents to understand what they were voting for in November. She said if the levy passes that would give parks board about $270,000 per year plus the $160,000 or so from the general fund. Brady said she didn’t mean to downgrade their plans. She recalled back in 2007, the general fund for Parks Mmaintenance was $70,000 and ten years later it’s up close to $100,000 more.
“Our work hasn’t even begun,” said Corogin. “We want to be transparent.” She said if the levy is successful, they would like a full-time supervisor who can re-evaluate everything from all the mowing to the safety of the city’s playgrounds. Council president Steve Herron said Vermilion must compete with other communities. He said those communities have a lot of programs for residents and Vermilion doesn’t. He stayed it also can be considered a safety issue for children. Herron said he was concerned about Brady’s statements indicating parks was taking money away from the general fund. He said that thinking was a huge mistake. “We budgeted it, and we need it to compete with other communities.”
“I vote, yes,” said councilman Frank Loucka who supported the levy. Councilman Brian Holmes also was on board and believed Vermilion needed to compete with other cities. “Parks are important for leisure and for our children to create their own history. Parks can open the door for more people to come here and live,” said Holmes. “We need to enjoy safe, clean parks.” Corogin agreed and said people come up to her all the time and tell her this town looks like people care about the community. They are amazed at all the flowers and landscaping with the help of Vermilion in Bloom volunteers.
Councilman Jim Forthofer pointed out Vermilion has more lakefront property than most communities and that we should embrace it and make it more livable. He said volunteer groups like the Vermilion Lions and Rotary can’t last forever to keep up some of the parks. Corogin said there is over 1,500 feet of public lakefront and 18 parks. “That’s a lot of public space.” Scholtz agreed they have a lot of volunteers contributing, and they want to be transparent in what they do. Councilwoman Brady agreed that parks board does an amazing job.
“Property values will go up with improved parks,” said council president Herron. “People want programming.” He said the fact that the city looks cared for is a testimony to Dana Corogin and all her hard work. She has been part-time and less with parks for eight years and 13 years with Vermilion in Bloom leading the charge for beautification. “We can be more and be better. We don’t want to change Vermilion, just do better. We have a lot to offer,” said Corogin.