Chicago Parks District approves $ 500 million budget, establishes office to investigate harassment and abuse

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The Chicago Park District Board of Directors on Wednesday approved a budget of more than $ 500 million, which includes funding to establish a new Protection and Accountability Office where allegations of discrimination, harassment and abuse will go. under investigation.

The $ 510.9 million budget will bring back all programs and services affected by the pandemic, the Park District said in a press release on Wednesday.

The budget represents an increase of about 6% over the operating budget for 2021, 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 into 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 Prevention and Accountability Office follows criticism of the district’s response to reports of widespread abuse among lifeguards, first 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 bring about real change. “

Escareño took the agency’s top job in October, after former superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly was forced to resign.

Park District Commissioners last month released the results of an independent investigation that detailed the agency’s mismanagement of the rescuers’ sexual abuse allegations. After the report was released on November 2, Escareño said she fired three high-level Park District officials. Avis LaVelle also announced her resignation as chair of the park council shortly after the council discussed next year’s budget.

Former Chicago Parks Lifeguard Supervisor Mauricio Ramirez was charged with criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a second victim on Wednesday.

“The Office of Prevention and Accountability will ensure that the Chicago Park District meets its commitment to provide a fair, inclusive, safe and respectful work and play environment free from discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, misconduct sexual, workplace violence, abuse and neglect of children and adults with developmental disabilities and retaliation, ”the press release said on Wednesday.

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 council 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 wrestling and youth football.

The Park District is launching a multi-year community conservation scholarship in which teens work with professional artists to create murals. Newly established teen centers will provide a place for young people to gather and interact in 10 parks around Chicago, the district said.

The program costs will remain the same over the next year, and the district is providing financial assistance of more than $ 2.8 million.

“No child will be excluded from the program because of a family’s inability to pay,” the district said.

The budget also includes funding for improvements to 18 cultural centers and renovations at Garfield Park, the new district headquarters in Brighton Park and country house upgrades in Revere, Avondale, Blackhawk, Chopin, West Pullman and Hermosa parks. .

The Chicago Park District’s 2022 budget can be viewed online.

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