Another day, another local public sector budget deeply in the red. This time it's the Chicago Park District's turn. As the Sun-Times reported on Monday, the district is facing a $22 million budget gap in what's expected to be an estimated $400 million spending plan for next year. The district is considering fee hikes, employee furlough days, and delaying projects to close the shortfall. Layoffs are on the table, but park district superintendent Tim Mitchell has ruled out a property tax hike.
Of course, the City of Chicago's tax increment financing account is stuffed with anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion, and the park district is one of the taxing agencies within Cook County that would get a boost if the city's TIF dollars were declared surplus. The park district's share of the local property tax pie has slipped to 6.71 percent, according to the Sun-Times. Even so, that means declaring Chicago's TIF dollars as surplus could result in a windfall of $49 million to $61 million for the agency, more than covering the present deficit.
Much of the debate about the future of the city's TIF reserves this summer and fall has focused on how a surplus would boost Chicago Public Schools and the city's own budget. Parks shouldn't be left out of the discussion. Parks still offer plenty of opportunities for free entertainment. That's especially important during hard economic times.