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Funding Freeze Puts Illinois Park Districts in a Bind

With the state of Illinois facing a $1.6 billion budget deficit, governor Bruce Rauner has placed an indefinite suspension on state grants for park district construction, which affects both current construction and new construction for park districts across the state. 

This decision comes at a particularly poor time for many park districts just gearing up to start work on a variety of construction projects as warm spring weather sets in.

In the Fox Valley Park District, planned upgrades to two park and a community center are all on hold because of the suspension of funds. Public relations manager, Jeff Long, said about the suspension, "Construction was to begin any day with the nice weather but that will be put on hold until we hear more."

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According to Illinois Association of Park Districts president and CEO, Peter Murphy, there are more consequences to the decision besides postponed construction.

“The suspension not only threatens jobs that are helping grow Illinois’ economy, it creates exposure to local taxpayers for existing contractual obligations and project costs. The construction delays will also end up costing local taxpayers time and money.” 

Chicago and Springfield were two of the cities hardest hit by the suspension, losing $28 million and $26 million of funding, respectively. The city of Chicago has 27 projects that will be affected by funding freezes. Overall, it is not clear exactly how much money parks around the state will lose. 

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel called for Rauner to restore funding to park districts throughout the state, arguing that the state’s budget cannot be balanced “on the backs of our neighborhoods, our families and our children.”

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The city of Aurora had two major projects that will now be delayed due to the lack of funding. In a statement issued by the city in regards to the freezing of funds, they said, “Both projects were funded not only to enrich and educate, but as a practical means of creating jobs to stimulate the local economy. Neither project constitutes wasteful or inefficient government spending.”

While park districts across the state are hoping the freeze does not become permanent, there is currently no timeline for when a final decision regarding the funding will be made. 

Rauner has asked leaders in the General Assembly for permission to move funds around within the budget, but an announcement of a new deal is not expected this week.  

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