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Forest preserve budget passes with tax hike

Thursday, November 16, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County Forest Preserve commissioners all agreed Wednesday trimming the forest preserve budget was a good idea -- but only six voted for actually making the changes and sparing homeowners another property tax increase.
After a proposal to consolidate forest preserve and county administrative functions was defeated, the forest preserve board passed a $167 million budget that contains a 4.9 percent increase in the property tax levy.
Owners of a $200,000 home will pay $1.98 more, officials said.
Commissioner Forrest Claypool's (D-Chicago) original amendment would have removed that increase by trimming $4 million from the corporate fund through reductions in finance, legal, human resources and planning and development.
"We have a $3 billion sister government, a $60 million or $70 million forest preserve operation," Claypool said. "It doesn't make sense to replicate the bureaucracy."
But commissioners said the idea -- first proposed in 1976 -- needed more study.
"We need time to sit down, work it out, see what the dynamics are," said Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood). "I like this idea, Forrest, I think you did a great job, but I wish you would withdraw it until we could see it in a different venue."
The measure was defeated 9 to 6, but the board passed two later amendments proposed by Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) that make no changes to the budget but say said the district and county "shall" consolidate finance, human resources and administration departments by April 1.
"I know it says by April 1 ... but this is not intended as a joke," Suffredin said. "By putting this firmly in here, we will get these intergovernmental agreements done."
President Bobbie Steele opposed all of the consolidation measures.
"While it sounds good in concept, the details have to be worked out," Steele said. "I think we're just trying to play to the press with how progressive we are."
Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) sought an amendment that would have steered money reserved for the failed Urban Concessions contract toward repair or demolition of the toboggan slides.
The amendment only passed after Gorman agreed to weaken it to say the money will be used for some sort of capital improvement, not necessarily the slides.
Commissioners were handed two amendments that would have increased administrative salaries, including an 11.5 percent boost for Supt. Steve Bylina to $160,000 a year.
But those amendments never saw the floor because no commissioner was willing to sponsor them.
"They weren't supposed to be distributed; it was a miscommunication," Steele said later, adding she didn't favor the salary boosts even though she felt Bylina deserved one.
"We're talking about a slight tax increase and we don't want the public to perceive that as being for boosting someone's salary," Steele said.

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