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Friends of county forests come out of the woodwork

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

A chorus of support rose Monday for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, its embattled reputation and a 13.6 percent property tax hike its leaders want.

While environmental activists provided most of that support, taxpayer advocates and some commissioners cautioned the top-heavy district takes too much from taxpayers without explanation.

Commissioners are set to vote on a $61 million budget next week. In the budget's final public hearing, the district won praise for increasing youth education spending from $15,000 to $30,000 and funds for volunteer programs from $5,000 to $110,000, while also setting aside $750,000 for land acquisition.

But the district was criticized for having 200 maintenance employees and a $13 million budget for repairs while allowing toboggan slides to fall apart last year.

Cut more jobs, some say

In addition, the recreation department -- which is responsible for one pool and picnic permit requests -- has 21 employees and a nearly $1 million budget.

While groups like Friends of the Forest Preserves, Friends of the Parks, Openlands and the Nature Conservancy focused on positive changes they say the district has made, others like the Civic Federation said the district hasn't cut enough jobs and has provided no explanations for how it will spend $100 million from a bond issue.

Commissioner Deborah Sims said it's not up to the district to provide spending details or even toboggan slides, but other commissioners plan to propose amendments to spend $1.5 million to repair the slides.

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