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Parks asking public for help; Fundraisers fill funding gaps


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With the hope of raising money for supplies and programs, the county parks department recently tried a new method to boost its budget.

The Johnson County Parks & Recreation Department asked residents to dine at a Greenwood restaurant, where 25 percent of their bills would be donated to the government office for supplies it couldn’t afford with its yearly budget, which has been cut by the county in recent years.

The event was the parks department’s first fundraising drive. It raised $90 to buy field guides and markers for night hikes and summer day camps, according to Jules Erwin, assistant parks superintendent.

“This was one of our first moneymakers,” she said.

FUNDING EFFORTS

Local tax-funded organizations have hosted fundraisers to supplement their budgets. Here is a look at their fundraisers:

Johnson County Parks & Recreation

What: Dine to donate at City Barbeque

Amount raised: $92

Where the money goes: Program supplies

Greenwood Public Library

What: A Knight to Remember

Amount raised: $60,000

Where the money goes: Building maintenance.

City of Greenwood

What: Park fundraiser

Amount raised: $100,000 so far

Where the money goes: Splash pad and park

SOURCES: Johnson County Parks & Recreation, Greenwood Public Library, City of Greenwood

In the past year, at least five local governments in the county have hosted fundraisers meant to bring in money for new projects or to help fund expenses after their budgets have been cut.

School education foundations, such as the Center Grove Education Foundation, have raised money for classroom projects and other school expenses for years, often with similar events where diners donate a portion of their meal costs.

The Center Grove Education Foundation’s annual gala has raised money for expenses, including tablet computers for classrooms.

Government groups also have raised money through nonprofit foundations for decades, according to Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of public policy and philanthropy at Indiana University. Taxpayers often prefer to give to a nonprofit organization knowing their money is being earmarked for a particular purpose, rather than just giving to a government, she said.

Local governments recently started conducting fundraisers to make up for funding that had been cut and to help pay for new projects.

Property tax caps limit how much governments can collect in taxes, and a troubled economy has affected incomes. Both led to less money for the Greenwood Public Library, requiring the library district to do more fundraising, director of development Jane Weisenbach said.

The nonprofit organization that raises funds for the library has hosted fundraisers for more than 10 years for the library. The library began 2012 with a $200,000 budget deficit, but a fundraiser helped the library start 2013 with money in the bank, Weisenbach said.

In October, the library fundraiser A Knight to Remember featured former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight as its guest speaker. The event netted the library $60,000. The funds covered the cost of some maintenance the library needed, including replacing broken windows and repairing floors.

Donations and fundraisers last year paid for building maintenance, programs such as story time for children, and new books, DVDs, audio books and other materials for the library’s collection. The library plans to conduct more fundraisers.

The city of Greenwood is raising money for the first time this year. The city is looking for $300,000 in donations to help pay for a new park and splash pad.

City officials decided to raise money through donations to increase public support for a new parks project and to free up spending on other parks projects and city expenses. The city plans to encourage donations through fliers, banners and other advertising. The money would pay to finish trails, do landscaping, build and renovate restrooms, and build a parking lot and two rain gardens.

“It was just an idea that we came up with to try to get the public involved to help them feel more a part of the project,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.

So far, four businesses have donated a total of $100,000, and the Johnson County Community Foundation has offered to match private donations up to $15,000. Donors can get their names on paving stones, benches, signs and on plaques. The park and splash pad, which will be built at the site of the former city pool, are estimated to cost $840,000.

Myers said he plans to use fundraisers to help the city pay for other projects.

The city has seen a decrease in funding in recent years, he said. The park project would’ve happened without private funding, but by paying for the work with donations, the city also can pay for other needed parks projects, such as resurfacing basketball and tennis courts, he said.

“Financially, we do need the help. Our budgets are strapped as it is,” Myers said.

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