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Marengo Park District looks for a new leader

Published: Sunday, July 27, 2014 11:22 p.m. CST

MARENGO – A park district trying to regain the public’s trust is now looking for a new leader to help move past the financial problems that have defined the Marengo district for decades.

Business Director Heather Shepard’s recent resignation from her part-time post created an opportunity for the Marengo Park District board to hire a superintendent of parks and recreation. The board already has received numerous applications for the position, with initial interviews set to begin in August, board President Scott McCann said.

Members want a full-time administrator to be the new face of a park district marred recently by staff cuts and facility closings, as years of financial mismanagement and failed referendums in the early 2000s continue to overwhelm the district with debt.

“The ultimate goal is to find someone who already has the experience and can help us out with financial management and our relationship with the community,” McCann said. “That’s what we want to focus on.”

Officials have pointed to escalating debt payments, primarily tied to a 2003 building expansion, and a declining revenue base in the years since as the causes for the district’s budgetary issues. The financial pressures earlier this year forced the board to close the district’s swimming pool for the 2014 season, as a way to conserve money for other programs and maintenance needs.

The cost-cutting move was projected to save the district the roughly $32,000 it loses each year by operating the public pool.

Since taking over the district’s finances in 2012, Shepard and her staff have been accustomed to budget cuts and spending constraints, as the district tried to fend off insolvency.

Shepard also moved into the part-time role after a tumultuous year at the district.

As financial woes continued in 2011, the district eliminated its full-time administrator and closed its day care operation before handing the facility to the Marengo United Methodist Church, which currently runs its own day care at the site.

During Shepard’s tenure, the district cut its full-time staff to three employees, reeled in excess spending and started paying regular bills on time.

She told the Northwest Herald that she alone made the decision to resign after receiving a new job offer. Shepard has agreed to stay at the district as a part-time accountant.

“The move is one that is driven by wanting what is best for my family. ... I have enjoyed every minute of working with the kids in our programs, and I have enjoyed getting to know the people who support the park district,” Shepard said.

Without Shepard’s leadership, Marengo likely wouldn’t have a park district today, McCann said.

“She truly was a great asset for us,” he said. “It was her decision to go in a different direction. It did not have the board’s input at all.”

With interviews set to start soon, the board wants to have a full-time superintendent named by mid-August, McCann said.

The district’s new leader, who would oversee all areas of the district, would start at a critical juncture, as the board continues to grapple with ways to jump-start its revenue, pay off debt and restart shuttered services.

“The focus on the future is about helping us better understand and get us on the right track with our fiscal responsibilities,” McCann said.

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