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Homeowners hit with 13.6% forest district tax hike

Friday, December 03, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County taxpayers will have to cough up 13.6 percent more next year to support the Forest Preserve District, Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Gardens.

But County Board President John Stroger says it will mean little more than "a large cup of gourmet coffee" to most homeowners.

Thursday, Stroger unveiled a $61 million proposed budget for the district for 2005, which Commissioner Forrest Claypool said "is all about protecting jobs for politicians and their friends and, once again, sticking it to taxpayers."

Commissioner Mike Quigley called it "top heavy," but Stroger said it's "the strongest and most fiscally sound" budget in 10 years.

With $38.2 million set for the Forest Preserve District, $14.1 million for the Brookfield Zoo and $8.9 million for the Chicago Botanic Gardens, it's actually slightly smaller than the 2004 budget.

Cost of borrowing drives up bills

The budget makes up less than 1 percent of an overall property tax bill, he emphasized, but a 20-year payoff plan for a $100 million bond issue will drive tax bills up.

A house with a market value of $200,000 was billed $26 to support the district last year, but next year it will cost $29. Then it will cost at least $32.26 in 2006 and $3.26 more every year until 2026, when the bond issue will be paid off.

Commissioner Joseph M. Moreno said, "I'm ready to approve this now," but Civic Federation director Lawrence Msall criticized that quick reaction, as commissioners haven't even set hearings yet for public comment on it.

He said they're "ramming through a tax increase," which "reflects the way the district is an afterthought to so many of them."

Taxpayers will provide 119 percent more for some employee health insurance, 144 percent more for dental coverage and 53 percent more in life insurance payments, but district finance chief Lenny Moore couldn't say how much employee contributions will increase.



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