Merge the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago

Savings: $5 million

The Chicago Park District (Park District) is the oldest park district in the United States and oversees over 7,300 acres of parkland in 552 parks.  It also operates nine lakefront harbors, which is the largest municipal harbor system in the Country.[1]

Under this option, the City would merge the Park District into the City of Chicago and operate the Park District like City departments, such as Police and Streets and Sanitation.  The table below details the 2011 budget for a number of central administrative offices in the Park District.


2011 Budget

Board of Commissioners






Financial Services


Human Resources


Information Technology




Legal Investigations


Legislative & Community Affairs


Office of Budget & Management


Office of Green Initiatives


Office of Secretary (to the Board of Commissioners)








Notes: Budgeted totals only reflect Corporate Fund amounts.  Pension costs are not included in the totals.

Source: Chicago Park District. 2011 Budget Appropriations

If the Park District merged into the City of Chicago, the Park District’s budget could likely be significantly reduced.  For example, the Board of Commissioners and the Office of Secretary to the Board could both be eliminated, saving nearly $500,000, as the City Council would fulfill the role that the Board currently plays.  The City could also likely generate significant savings by folding the functions of other central offices into existing City Departments.  The City’s annual budget is 15 times larger than the Park District annual budget, yet, the Park District treasurer’s office budget of $1.6 million is nearly as large as the City Treasurer budget of $2.2 million.[2]  Similarly, the Park District’s human resources office has a budget of $1.9 million, compared to the City’s Department of Human Resources annual budget of only $6 million.

Given the high percentage of some central offices’ spending compared to similar City departments and the fact that certain offices could simply be eliminated through a merger, assume that 25 percent of the central office spending in these offices could be eliminated by merging the functions of these offices with existing City departments.  That corresponds to $5 million in savings annually.

The Chicago Park District is created and largely governed by Illinois state law.  The Chicago Park District Act of 1934 consolidated all existing park districts within Chicago into one district, responsible for all of the City’s parks.  Under the Act, the district is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners, appointed by the Mayor, with approval of City Council.  Nothing in State law or the Code of the Chicago Park District references any dissolution procedure.  It appears that, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners, given the great authority vested in it, could enact an ordinance vesting certain authority to the City (e.g. oversight authority).

Proponents might argue that the duplication of administrative costs that comes from operating the Park District as a separate government is a waste of City taxpayer resources.  If the combined budgets of the two governments are reduced, the result would be a reduction in the overall Citywide tax burden.  Others might contend that the savings would free City tax revenues available either to reduce the structural deficit or lessen budget cuts to other critical City programs. Opponents might argue that maintaining the Park District’s independence from the City is essential to maintaining the high level of service the Park District provides.  Chicago spends more on its parks than other large cities and this is a reflection of the importance of parks to the City’s residents.[3]  Merging the Park District into the City of Chicago to achieve savings might therefore lead to a reduction in service quality.


Discussion and Additional Questions

In order to make a decision about whether or not to implement this option, decision makers would want to know more about what Park District and City operations could be combined to achieve savings.  There may be additional areas, outside of central administration, in which savings could be achieved.  For instance, in conducting research on the City’s use of Motor Truck Drivers (MTDs), it was reported to the OIG that while City crews that trim trees employ MTDs, Park District crews do not.  Thus, it may be more efficient to have Park District crews perform this service.  Some general questions to consider:

  • What similar or overlapping services do the Park District and City provide?
  • What other elimination of redundancies might be realized through a merger of the two governments?

Budget Details

Dept: NA Bureau: NA
Fund: NA Approp Code: NA


[2] City of Chicago locally-funded budget: $6.15 billion Park District Budget: $400 million.

Civic Federation. “Chicago Park District FY2011 Budget: Analysis and Recommendations.” December 1, 2010.