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Steele sets budget for forest preserve

Thursday, October 26, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

The proposed 2007 budget for the Cook County Forest Preserve District makes no major changes from last year, adding a few police and naturalists and raising taxes only slightly.
Board President Bobbie Steele also wants to create a nonprofit support group for the district, similar to the Parkways Foundation that supports the Chicago Park District.
Spending on capital improvements will be less in 2007, as many of the major renovation projects started two years ago are finished, Supt. Steve Bylina said.
Once again, no money is budgeted for repairing the popular toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff, which have been closed the past two winters due to disrepair.
The district hopes the slides can reopen in late 2007 after a private vendor takes over management and pays for repair. A contract with a concession management firm, which will seek such a vendor, is set for approval at the district's next meeting.
Steele said the 4.9-percent increase in the property tax levy would increase taxes by $1.98 on a home worth $200,000.
"That's well below the cost of a small cup of Starbucks coffee," Steele said.
To see the proposed budget, go online to http://fpdcc.com.
Unlike some other governments, Steele said, the forest preserve district is almost entirely dependent on property taxes and needs to budget for an expected increase in labor costs as union negotiations begin next year.
"You prepare for war in times of peace," Steele said.
This is Steele's first and only district budget; she took office in August to replace the retiring John Stroger and will step down in December.
The $167 million budget is similar to those from the past few years and continues the trend of beefing up the district's scientific staff, adding positions for a naturalist and an ecologist.
Steele cut three vacant administrative jobs and added six police officers to the force, all of whom will patrol trails on foot, bicycle or all-terrain vehicle instead of the squad cars that are confined to the preserve parking lots.
"These officers will help keep our visitors safe and will be able to discuss matters of conservation with them, as the result of the expanded ecological curriculum included in their training," Steele said.
Steele said that before stepping down she'll take "the largest and most significant" step to forming a separate nonprofit corporation that will seek cash and land donations for the preserves.
"This is an idea too long deferred," Steele said.
The nonprofit would be run by a separate board, and its money would be used for acquiring new land and funding education and recreation programs, such as bike trails, said Cathy Geraghty, the forest preserve's director of development. The money would not be used to cover basic maintenance or operations.
"It's for the things we'd like to do above and beyond our current budget," Geraghty said.



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