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Letter to the Editor: Forest Preserve, county funding separate

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times

An article in Monday's Chicago Sun-Times -- "Have You Heard About The Forest Preserves?" -- was a welcome opportunity to inform the public about both our "68,000 Acres of Adventure" campaign and about how their tax dollars are being used.

Unfortunately, several points in the piece were misleading and misinform the larger public discussion regarding the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

The article states that "consumers in Chicago now pay a nation-high 10.25 percent sales tax thanks in part to a penny-on-the-dollar increase that the same Cook County commissioners who also run the Forest Preserve District approved last year."

What was missing, however, was any indication that the Forest Preserve District does not receive ANY of the funds received from that increase -- not one penny. This is because the Cook County government budget and that of the forest preserves are completely separate. They have separate budget books and they have separate staffs.

What I find particularly troubling is that, in the third-to-last sentence in the article, it is acknowledged that "technically, the Forest Preserve District is a separate entity from county government -- although its president and commissioners are the same."

While it did not make mention of separate budgets, it seemed to at least acknowledge some level of separation between the two governments. That is, until the last sentence.

Unfortunately, the last sentence again makes an effort to tie the two together, noting that the three-year total spent on campaigns is "a relatively small amount in government, though still enough to pay the total annual salaries of, say, 25 new nurses for the county's health system or 17 new attorneys for the public defender's office." The problem with this statement -- with the rationale behind it and with its inclusion in the article -- is that the dollars being discussed could not and would NEVER be used for those purposes because the entities -- Cook County government and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County -- are separate and distinct taxing bodies. Forest preserve dollars have not and cannot be used to support either the Bureau of Health, the Public Defender's Office or any other Cook County agency.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County makes up only 1 percent of Cook County homeowners' tax bills and did not raise taxes in its FY 2009 budget. Yet for that 1 percent, we proudly offer our visiting public over 300 miles of trails, 10 golf courses, four driving ranges, three aquatic centers, hundreds of picnic groves, nearly 40 lakes and ponds and myriad volunteer opportunities, which provide the district in excess of $400,000 in donated volunteer labor each year.

Steve Mayberry

Public Affairs Director

Forest Preserve District

of Cook County

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