Drops in revenue and an unexpected bill from the state have put the Williston Parks and Recreation District in a precarious financial position.
In all, Darin Krueger, executive director, said the district lost about $2 million in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a 10-week closure at the Williston ARC, the WPRD’s main facility. The oil crash that started after a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia caused sales tax revenue to fall.
And both Williston and the WPRD have been hit with bills from the state to repay sales tax overpayments from the past.
Revenue from membership funds the operation at the district, while sales tax is supposed to pay for the bond the district took out to build the ARC. When both fell, it caused a crisis.
“Our bond payments, for 101 months, the half cent (sales tax) always covered it,” Krueger said. “Month 102 it didn’t. So that means I have to take out of my pocket to pay over here.”
To make up for the revenue shortfall, the park district board is going to ask the Williston City Commission to call a special election for voters to weigh in on a 1-cent sales tax for the park district. The city can call the election under its Home Rule charter.
“The funding for the park district has drastically changed because we’re only funded by sales tax,” Krueger said.
The district has held open 11 full-time positions and cut about $67,000 from its part-time budget during 2020.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to get out of this,” Krueger said. “Sales tax has to go up or we have to find more revenue.”
He expressed concern that raising rates for membership might actually hurt revenue as fewer people join.
“The goal is not to jack up prices to make sure we have enough money to operate,” he said.
As of Monday, the Park District board hadn’t met with Williston to talk about a special election for sales tax. If the city isn’t willing to call the election, then Krueger said he and the board will have to look at new changes.
“If we don’t get the revenues I’ll have to bone shave,” he said. “I don’t want to do it because it’s brutal.”
If the city does OK the move, then the public will have a chance to weigh in on it.
“Will the public support us?” Krueger asked. “I hope so. Will there be people upset about it? Yeah. And that’s, that’s okay, too.”