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Forest preserve to raise taxes
Commissioners hope to cut costs by giving some duties to county

Thursday, November 16, 2006
Special to
by Mickey Ciokajlo

The Cook County Forest Preserve District on Wednesday approved a 4.9 percent property tax increase as part of its 2007 budget while taking a step toward combining some of its functions with Cook County government.

Under a pair of budget amendments, the district's finance and human resources departments would be merged with the county government.
"There will be economy of savings by doing it this way. How much that savings is I don't know," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), lead sponsor of the amendments.

The same commissioners sit on both the forest preserve board and the County Board. The staffs for both governments will work out the details, and the amendment calls for both boards to approve the agreement by April 1.

Forest preserve board President Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago) voted against the amendments, saying it was unclear what would happen to the 25 employees in the two departments.

"While it sounds good in concept, the details have not been worked out to my satisfaction," Steele said. "I think we're just trying to play into the press as to how progressive we are, how determined we are to streamline all that stuff."

Joining Steele in voting against the amendments were Chicago Democrats Jerry Butler and Deborah Sims, and Republican Carl Hansen of Mt. Prospect.

Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) hesitated in casting her vote on the first of the three consolidation measures, started to ask a question, and then voted "present." She then left the meeting and missed the rest of the votes. Her staff said she had a family emergency.

Suffredin's merger amendments followed a proposal by Commissioner Forrest Claypool to fold even more departments into the county government. Claypool estimated that his amendment would have saved $4 million and eliminated the need to increase the property tax levy next year.

The $147 million budget passed by a vote of 11-4.

Claypool voted against the forest preserve budget because he said it contained an unnecessary tax increase. He also said the budget did nothing to reduce the bureaucracy.

"There were some symbolic things that were done today, and hopefully we can keep the pressure on," said Claypool, who was joined by Hansen and Commissioners Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) in voting against the budget.

An amendment forwarded by the district's staff that would have granted General Supt. Steven Bylina an 11.5 percent pay raise to $160,000 died quietly when no commissioner would sponsor it. Steele later said she killed the proposal, saying it would have looked bad at a time when money is tight. Bylina received a 3.5 percent raise, in line with other district employees, bringing his annual salary to $148,531.

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