The city of Rockford will ask residents to consider a dedicated millage to support parks, trails and outdoor spaces when they go to the polls in November.
Rockford is proposing a 2.5 mill increase to property taxes for 20 years to provide extra support for parks. If approved, the average homeowner in Rockford would pay approximately $243 annually — about $20 a month — with more than $640,000 annually benefitting parks and recreation.
Funds generated would be used to maintain, replace and invest in Rockford’s more than 120 acres of parks and trails. Guided by the Parks Master Plan, funds would be used:
- To add one full-time employee focused on parks.
- For general maintenance and operation, such as buying gas and mulch, repairing lawn mowing equipment, cleaning and sealing decks and trails, power washing, repairing asphalt trails and related activities.
- To replace and upgrade playground equipment, picnic tables, benches, sidewalks, lighting, canoe and kayak launches, and more.
- On capital improvements to add a splash pad, ice skating rink, outdoor fireplace and more, completing the Garden Club Park master plan and taking steps toward the Memorial Park master plan.
If approved, the millage also will enable Rockford to utilize general funds to make needed repairs on roads throughout the city rather than funding park maintenance.
“The global pandemic highlighted the importance of parks and trails for our residents, who utilized our outdoor spaces more than ever last year,” City Manager Thad Beard said. “The pandemic also underscored how much our parks and trails are in need of repair. In addition to routine maintenance, our list of repairs or replace needs is long and getting longer.
“While we are fortunate to have the extensive park system we do, the legacy costs to maintain our system have outpaced our budget. Rockford has been successful in securing state grants and private donations to supplement tax dollars, and we will continue to do so. But the current funds available do not cover our costs for operations and maintenance, let alone replacement, upgrades or new capital improvements.”
Rockford’s network of parks and trails link neighborhoods to various public facilities and the downtown business district, making it a walkable and bike-friendly city.
Over the past two decades, Rockford has developed and improved its public parks and trails, creating natural spaces for residents and visitors alike to enjoy. Most recently, residents and service organizations have gifted funds to help build the new stage in Garden Club Park.
If the millage is approved, approximately $425,000 will be used annually on operations and maintenance, $100,000 will be used annually on replacements and upgrades, and $115,000 will be used annually on bond payments to defray the costs of capital investments.
Beard noted the proposed millage would increase the level of service and maintenance for parks, as well as free up funds for road improvements.
“The current funding situation has forced city leaders to choose between maintenance projects and improvement projects when both are necessary,” Beard said. “If voters do not support the millage, Rockford will be forced to make further cuts to its parks and trails funding, such as delaying repairs, removing failing playground equipment, closing some parks and perhaps selling others. We hope voters will carefully consider the matter when they cast their ballots this fall.”