Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Park Board budget talk focus is event expenses

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The Porter County Park Board approved the 2019 Park Department budget at its meeting Thursday, and its budget discussions centered on event expenses.

Last year, the County Council allocated $520,345 from the general fund and $262,193 from the non-reverting fund for the Park Department.

This year, the Department will ask for $578,348 from the general fund and $226,584 from the non-reverting fund--an increase of $22,394.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos reported the changes from last year’s request. This year’s asks for funds for part-time hourly salaries, uniforms, and building and maintenance supplies are increasing. Some asks haven’t changed, but the funds have been added to different line items, like the light rental for the winter lights festival. Now it falls under the events line item, but the amount budgeted hasn’t changed.

Other funds are being moved based on priority. Lenckos reported that $500 allocated for travel often goes unused, so he used those funds to propose a $500 increase in the building and maintenance supplies line item. A major increase came in the ask for event expenses.

Board President Craig Kenworthy asked Lenckos about the return on those expenses. “The amount of money we’re spending on festivals, I don’t think it’s coming back to us. If someone could tell me these are breaking even, I’d feel better about it,” he said.

Lenckos said the three major festivals, Spring Out to Sunset, Prairie Magic, and Winter Lights, have been attracting more visitors to the parks, and they pay for themselves combined with other income. Last year, $34,500 was allocated for events. This year, Lenckos proposed asking the County Council to allocate $67,700. Lenckos said the three festivals will have a projected income of $53,000, and income generated from park field trips alone will provide the $15,000 to cover the remaining cost of the event line item. The Park Department also has guaranteed income from leasing farmland at Brookdale and Aukiki parks and money that Dunes Tourism shares with them each year. Summer camp fees are projected to be 36 percent of next year’s income, and rentals will make up 26 percent, according to Lenckos.

Citing Board member Drew Armstrong’s comments last meeting about badly needed maintenance to a road and a building at Sunset Hill Farm Park, Kenworthy said, “I have problems throwing this much money at events when we have these problems over here that we don’t know if we’re gonna get the money for.”

Lenckos said 2018 funds can be used to address Armstrong’s concerns--which include the program center roof and a road to the amphitheater--as only 25 percent of 2018’s maintenance budget has been used, thanks to grants offsetting the cost of fish habitat and removal of invasive species at Brookdale Park and pond and trail maintenance at Sunset Hill. He emphasized that he tries to plan for the unexpected. “I’m budgeting not only to break even on these things, but to have a $33,000 cushion,” Lenckos said. “At this stage in the game, every single one of our income projections for 2018 is running ahead because I budget conservatively on the income side and add in a contingency on the expense side.”

Board member David Canright, for his part, pointed out that the non-reverting fund isn’t taxpayer supported. “The overall non-reverting expenses are going down, which is a responsible direction because it shows that some thought is going into potential for genuine income.”

Lenckos also said the festivals have been attracting more and more people and spending more money has been productive. “The strategy has worked year after year after year, and it’s not taxpayer dollars,” he said. “There’s more people coming to the activities and to the park.” He added, “Sometimes if you don’t spend the money, the income disappears with the expense.”

Kenworthy responded that he isn’t suggesting the Board stop growing the festivals, but maybe that they should grow slower, and asked that Lenckos make a list of projected income available with the budget in the future. The Board approved the budget unanimously with member Chris Richardson absent.

Sunset Hill Building Project

Lenckos updated the Board on the progress of the grain bin activity center at Sunset Hill. He reported that architects from Chester Inc. have tentative approval to take their designs for the grain bin before the Porter County Development Review Committee on July 19. If the designs are approved at that meeting, construction could start as soon as August 13.



Posted 7/10/2018





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