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Aldermen debate rec program costs

Evanston aldermen Monday debated the size of the taxpayer subsidy involved in running the city’s youth recreation programs.

During a program review, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Doug Gaynor said that the recreation programs cost the city $7.6 million a year while bringing in nearly $3.8 million in revenue, mostly from registration fees.

Evanston aldermen Monday debated the size of the taxpayer subsidy involved in running the city’s youth recreation programs.

During a program review, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Doug Gaynor said that the recreation programs cost the city $7.6 million a year while bringing in nearly $3.8 million in revenue, mostly from registration fees.

That leaves a deficit of over $3.8 million — meaning the programs cover a shade less than half their cost of operation.

Alderman Lionel Jean Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the council "shouldn’t look at what’s its costing us as a deficit."

"Parents pay taxes for their kids to get this kind of service. It’s a core service that the city provides," Jean-Baptiste said. "We shouldn’t view it as giving away anything."

But Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she’d like to see more detailed financial information for all the youth programs, to see which ones are covering their costs.

And Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said parents are asking her about the cost of their taxes. "I’m just trying to understand where the money is going, what it’s actually costing us. If we are providing programs that cannot be self-sustaining, I think we need to re-evaluate those."

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that only 29 percent of the more than 27,000 households in Evanston include children under 18 years of age, which means most taxpaying households don’t include anyone who uses the youth programs.

None of the aldermen proposed reducing a city subsidy program that offers half-price enrollment in recreation programs to children from low income families. That program, Gaynor said, adds about $140,000 a year to the department’s costs.

But Jean-Baptiste appeared to also oppose raising fees for more well-to-do families. "We don’t need to get into more of a pay-to-play culture," he said. "I think we need to protect what we have."

Although the issue wasn’t raised Monday night, Gaynor in the past has said that the department tries to price recreation programs to be competitive with those offered in neighboring communities.

He has raised concerns that if Evanston’s programs were priced higher than those of other communities that parents would choose to send their kids to programs in those other towns instead of here in Evanston, possibly leading to a reduction in overall revenue for the department.

The cost issue is expected to come up again this fall when aldermen begin debate on next year’s budget.

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