The voice of mayors within the Collinsville Area Recreation District (CARD) will likely play a big role in influencing voters who may be asked whether to dissolve the debt-ridden district.
The park district includes all of Collinsville and unincorporated Collinsville Township, and parts of Maryville, Glen Carbon and Pontoon Beach.
Collinsville Mayor John Miller said he is not ready to take a definite stance on the dissolution of CARD.
“Collinsville has much more at stake than any of the other communities involved, therefore we must carefully study the costs related to going back into the parks and recreation business,” said Miller. “We will, in time, give a statement of how we will move forward on this issue.
CARD encompasses the entirety of the City of Collinsville. However, two of the three other towns which only have parts included in CARD favor dissolution.
Maryville Mayor Larry Gulledge is on record in favor of dissolution.
Mayor Mike Pagano of Pontoon Beach echoed Gulledge’s position.
“We’d like to dissolve it for sure,” he said.
The "Dissolve CARD" movement formed in early October due to the district’s serious financial problems. The district is facing long term debt totaling $45 million. Local leaders who support the move say the only alternative to dissolving is to raise taxes or take on more debt, or both.
“The problem with CARD is that it has irresponsible spending throughout the years," said Pagano. "Not with, I am told, the existing board, but they are still almost $23 million in debt, with no end in sight."
Even if voters would decide to dissolve, the debt would still need to be repaid by property owners. However, tax dollars going to CARD would be cut in half, as there would be no more maintenance fees, upkeep, and other costs that are incurring while CARD is still active.
If CARD does dissolve, the members of the board would place its parks under the operation of the towns in which they fall.
Gulledge said that local communities are more capable of operating parks efficiently and at less of a cost to taxpayers.
The process for dissolving involves gathering enough support from voters within the district - approximately 5,500 - to get a referendum question on the ballot. In order to get a referendum onto the March ballot, signatures must be collected by mid December. For the referendum to succeed, two-thirds of voters have to recommend dissolution.
According to Pagano, the people of Pontoon Beach will vote to dissolve CARD.
“Absolutely… anytime you can save people money, absolutely,” Pagano said. “We don’t really get a benefit from it.. Some of my residents don’t even know they are paying into CARD.”
Glen Carbon Mayor Robert Jackstadt could not be reached for comment.