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Cook County Forest Preserve District not raising user fees

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Daily Herald
by Jake Griffin

After increasing user fees this year, Cook County Forest Preserve District officials are holding the line in next year's $179 million budget.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the district's budget today, which included maintaining the district's $86.5 million property tax levy as well.

The district will add nine new positions at a cost of just under $600,000, but Mark Thomas, the district's chief financial officer, said some of those hiring costs will be offset by eliminating contractual obligations. Almost $100,000 is being saved by hiring an additional information technology technician and website manager, he said.

The district is also adding four new police sergeants as it begins operating at least two new security outposts — one on the north side of the county and another on the south side.

The district is creating the Department of Conservation and Experiential Programming in an effort to increase outreach to residents who might not live near a forest preserve or have the means to travel to one. Some of the new positions being added will help with operations within that department, Thomas said.

While the district's operating costs were reduced by $11 million from last year's budget, Thomas said that's mainly because land acquisition funds had been earmarked in previous budgets and now those dollars are coming from $110 million the district borrowed last year. By the middle of 2015, the district anticipates spending $27 million of that $110 million, he said.

The district has earmarked $4 million for capital improvements, $2.3 million less than this year. But it is increasing its construction budget to $3 million, $1 million more than this year.

The Brookfield Zoo will receive a $15.2 million subsidy from Cook County taxpayers, $300,000 more than this year. The Zoo raises $49 million itself, district officials said. The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is receiving $9.4 million next year from Cook County taxpayers while it brings in $22.2 million itself.

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