Park District eliminates Park Singers program amid cutbacks

DECATUR—The cost cutting continues at the Decatur Park District.  Friday morning the district announced that after 40 plus years, the Park Singers and Young Park Singers programs are on the chopping block.
“This has been a tough day, for the community, for the park district and for me,” Park Board President Chris Riley said.  “This is a program that is near and dear to my heart that I’m going to miss going forward but it comes down to revenues and concerts and they just weren’t there.  I think we can save some money with the current budget situation we are in and better allocate our money to offer more alternative programs.
The Park Singers celebrated their 42nd anniversary this past summer and had over 40 performing members in the Park Singers and Young Park Singers, “This program has been around over 40 years, it’s sad to see it go right now, but taking a step back and looking at the program as a whole, not many programs have been around for this long.”  Riley himself was a park singer himself for seven years.
Program Director Becky Newton says the park district plans on replacing the park singers program with new art programs including a performance-based program for teens, music and performing arts summer camps, and continued entertainment and concerts for neighborhoods and the Decatur community, “We have some things in the works, various programs that we plan on rolling out next year.  We aren’t moving away for the performing arts and we expect our new programs to reflect that.”
After making extensive cuts the past two years due to declining property values in Decatur, Riley says something had to give, “For the past several years we have faced some budget issues that have caused us as a board to reevaluate where we are at and where we plan to go in the future.”
In an effort to gain additional revenues, the park district last year began constructing a new mini golf course that includes an expanded pro shop equipped with a Cherry Berry Frozen Yogurt bar.  Despite the budget cuts, Riley says all plans for the development of the lakefront are still on track, “The funds for the Park Singers and the funds for the lakefront development come from two different places and we can’t take money from one fund and put it into another, it doesn’t work like that.  We are looking forward to continuing to move forward with the lakefront development and with the new mini golf course and we expect them to be major revenue generators for us in the future.”
The board also agreed to increase taxes by 2 cents for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to try and offset their declining revenue base due to the drop in EAV, “Unfortunately as the EAV continues to drop we have to do something that evens out that loss, and we have tried to avoid it as long as possible, but that means our tax has to go up slightly.  Our best case scenario with this 2 cent increase is to break even and if the EAV dips below 2% we are still going to end up with less money than we had this year.”
The Park Singers have been a staple in the community for the last 40 years, last year they performed upwards of 40 shows for free around central Illinois.  Riley says the alternative programs the park district will offer next year will still give people the chance to participate in some form of performing arts.  Riley says that the new programs will start debuting next summer.