The Chicago Park District Council on Wednesday approved a budget of more than $500 million, which includes funding to create a new Office of Protection and Accountability where allegations of discrimination, harassment and abuse will the subject of an investigation.
The $510.9 million budget will bring back all programs and services impacted by the pandemic, the Park District said in a news release Wednesday.
The budget represents an increase of approximately 6% over the 2021 operating budget, which was reduced because programming was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget includes a property tax increase totaling $4.3 million, which would translate to about $4 in additional taxes for the average homeowner, the Park District said.
This is the fifth property tax increase in 16 years, according to the Park District.
The Office of Prevention and Accountability comes on the heels of criticism of the district’s response to reports of widespread abuse among lifeguardsfirst reported by WBEZ.
“Ensuring a safe and respectful work environment for our employees is a top priority for the Chicago Park District,” Acting General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño said in the press release. “We are facing a critical moment in the Park District and we must seize the opportunity to embrace real change.”
Escareño took over as head of the agency in October, after former superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly was forced to resign.
Last month, Park District Commissioners released the results of an independent investigation that detailed the agency’s mishandling of lifeguard sexual abuse allegations. Following the release of the report on Nov. 2, Escareño said she fired three high-level Park District officials. Avis LaVelle also announced her resignation as chair of the park’s board shortly after the board discussed next year’s budget.
Former Chicago Parks lifeguard Mauricio Ramirez was charged on Wednesday with felony sexual assault and aggravated felony sexual assault on a second victim.
“The Office of Prevention and Accountability will ensure that the Chicago Park District fulfills its commitment to provide an equitable, inclusive, safe and respectful work and leisure environment free from discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, ‘sexual misconduct, workplace violence, abuse and neglect of children and adults with developmental disabilities and retaliation,’ said Wednesday’s press release.
The budget includes $617,139 for five positions for the new office.
The office will also work with partners to provide victim support services, the Park District said.
The new office will be required to report regularly to the Park District Board and the public, according to the agency.
The Park District said it is allocating $126 million for programming, including an expansion of recreation for youth and adults with special needs.
It is also expanding its programs, including youth wrestling and soccer.
The Park District is launching a multi-year Community Conservation Fellowship in which teens work with professional artists to create murals. Newly created teen centers will provide young people with a place to gather and interact in 10 parks around Chicago, the district said.
Program fees will remain the same for the coming year, and the district is providing more than $2.8 million in financial assistance.
“No child will be excluded from the program due to a family’s inability to pay,” the district said.
The budget also includes funding for improvements to 18 cultural centers and renovations in Garfield Park, the new district headquarters in Brighton Park and country house improvements in Revere, Avondale, Blackhawk, Chopin, West Pullman and Hermosa parks. .
The Chicago Park District’s 2022 budget may be viewed online.