Russi questions opponents’ statements

Pam Monson

    Mike Russi is questioning claims made by his opponents for Park District commissioner that the fitness center is self sufficient, and that a lot of the $500,000 paid by the RidgePort Logistics Center development is in the bank as they maintain.
    Russi, incumbent Commissioner Dave Melhorn, former commissioner Randy Hill and Kevin Ptacek are all running for two open seats on the Wilmington Island Park District Board of Commissioners.
    The remarks were made by Hill and Melhorn during the Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s candidates’ forum on March 15:
    • Hill said he crunched numbers for months, wanting to ensure the park facility on North Water Street would not be a long-term burden on the community. His biggest concern was that property tax dollars would still be critical to keeping the fitness center open six or seven years down the road.
    “My plans were, I wanted that to be self sufficient within five years, that was my goal. I knew we were not going to be self sufficient the first two or three years, but gradually grow from there. We’ve done that in less than five years,” Hill claimed.
    • Melhorn said two pieces of equipment have been purchased with the RidgePort contributions, and that “a lot” of the money is still in the bank.
    “We’ve got a lot of it still in the bank, I don’t know the exact numbers, I don’t have them with me, but we are holding it in the bank. We’re holding it to try to do something with the parks, whether it’s with another group or it’s with the city, that’s the plans we have for that money.”
    During the public comment section of last Thursday night’s Park Board meeting, Russi asked if the fitness center is truly self sustaining, if the revenues exceed or equal the cost of operating the facility.
    “I saw the numbers from last year; apparently what we generated in this building with the programs, that would include the fitness club memberships, the parties, the classes and everything; was $128,000 and some odd dollars,” board President Tom Glenn said.
    But Russi didn’t feel he received an answer to his question.
    “It was presented that the building is self sustaining. So that means if we remove all tax money out of the equation, can this building stand on its own?” he asked.
    “That’s not how the math calculates,” Chavez said. She explained that the district had costs before it created the facility on North Water Street, and still has some of those same costs, such as full-time staff and utilities. She said the use of the building is covering its rent and the additional cost of part-time employees that were hired for the extended hours of operation.
    Glenn said the district has $121,417 left in its capital project fund, according to the board’s March 23 financial statement, which is the balance of the RidgePort contributions. Typically, capital funds are used for permanent improvements, but they can also be used for other purposes. According to the monthly financial reports, the fund had a balance of $70,009 in January 2016, with reported revenues of $132,582 since that time, and reported payouts totaling $61,195 in January and February of this year for a current reported balance of $121,417. The board authorized no large equipment purchases, building improvements or transfers from the fund in the last year.
    The developer of RidgePort has met its $500,000 commitment to the district, and is not required to make further contributions. The district will not start receiving property taxes from the logistics center until the tax increment financing district expires in 2023.
    Russi also asked what the special recreation tax has been used for, Chavez said she could provide that information. The monthly financial reports show the district is paying its contractual obligations to the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, but not where the balance of those funds is deposited or how much is left for local handicap accessibility improvements and programs promised to taxpayers.
    Having spent a career in business, Russi wants documentation to back up what the others are saying. He believes there is a more accurate way to determine what the fitness center costs the district and wants to know how capital funds are being spent. He submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the budget showing what park officials planned to spend in the current fiscal year for each purpose.