Now that ground has been broken for the new Robert Crown Center, it’s time for Evanstonians to explore better ways to fund all the city’s parks and recreation programs.
The design for the new building looks spectacular.
The private fundraising effort for Crown has been impressive.
But the projections from city staff that the new facility will still lose money on an operating basis — though less money than currently — are disappointing.
Also disappointing — the reality that the planned $200,000 set-aside from annual operating funds for long term maintenance costs is likely to be totally inadequate to fund future capital repairs to a $53 million facility.
And the fact that all city parks and recreation programs raise from fees only half of their $12 million operating budget — in a time of tight fiscal constraints for the city and its taxpayers — appears simply unsustainable.
Evanston has a mixed economy for recreation activities — with private for-profit businesses and not-for-profit groups competing with city offerings.
The city has an important role to play in subsidizing recreational opportunities for underprivileged youth. But directly providing those services itself may not always be the most economical option.
It also may be underpricing its offerings for those who can afford them. That forces taxpayers to provide a subsidy to those who don’t need one.
And it may create unfair competition for local private businesses and nonprofits.
As part of the broader review of city spending in all departments, a careful examination of the city’s parks and recreation budget is needed to gradually reduce the gap between its revenue and expenses.
The city has made major strides in recent years toward making some of the services it provides — notably its parking garages — fully self-sustaining.
Recreation programs may always require some operating subsidy from general tax revenues. But that “ask” from taxpayers needs to be reduced from current levels.