July 16, 2008

Save Our Community Center

Here’s an introduction to one speaker who attended last night’s meeting. Tom Tressor, founding member of Protect Our Parks - the group that sued to stop the construction of a private soccer facility for the Latin School in the heart of Lincoln Park. It seems like there is a growing trend in the parks system to do secret deals with all sorts of private organizations to take over park land or park facilities.

While some may say it’s apples and oranges to compare Gale Park to Lincoln Park since it involved a sale, construction, and the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, the common thread is the ‘privatization of our parks’. He pointed out that ‘no one is going to give us property to build a house on’.

Also mentioned was the ‘salting away’ of some of the Park District’s percentage of TIF dollars for the proposed Olympics 8 years away. In 2006 the Park District had $500 million. Well, less the millions in restitution over the soccer field fiasco which is still not over.

The audience laughed when Tom stated that while the “Park District may plead poverty – they have more money than God”. Privatization is a ‘sweet deal’ for the Park District. Latin School, a very wealthy private school had money-making plans for that soccer field. They would have had naming rights to the field, a donors walk for big business and advertising reaping more money and attention in a public park.

In our Gale Park fiasco, we have government and other entities in negotiations behind the community’s back as well as the park advisory council. Gale Park doesn’t belong to anyone but the people.

I will write more later on other speakers but wanted to share just one more speaker on this post.

During the 90 second individual input, Jasson Perez of SEIU Local 73 spoke to the group. Jasson is a community liaison between the union, their Park District employees and people like us. The parks and park buildings are public. Private entities such as BGC (or Latin School) have the means and power to raise money for land, facilities and programming – and should not be aided by the Park District at the expense of taxpayers. Nor should program funding be placed on the public school system to provide additional monies that large, powerful entities already have.

Jasson further spoke on the subject of park fees. If neighbors of any park in the city feel the charges don’t match the demographics and income they should speak up.

Clarification: I asked Tom Tressor for clarification on the funding statements on taxes and TIFS.

He responded: You got most of it right - but the correct info is - The city collected $500 million in property taxes from Tax Increment Finance Districts in 2006 (probably $600 million in 2007). These funds are off the books and are not available to the taxing bodies who use these funds to operate - including the public schools, the public libraries and the park district. The city has collected $2.5 billion in TIF funds since 1986 - that is money NOT available to mass transit, the schools, the parks, etc. The city is using TIF $ in questionable ways. So my comments were that the city has more money then God - and when they, or the Park District pleads poverty, it's a lie.

Now not all that money would be for the parks, or any one use - but surely the parks would better served if all the TIF districts were ended and the city's taxing bodies could collect their allocated share of property revenues. The city just spent $85 million to purchase the Michael Resse site for the Olympics. The city has enough money to operate its essential services in a quality manner deserving of a world-class city.