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Forest Preserve budget OK'd with calls for studies

Thursday, December 18, 2003
Pioneer Press
by Peter Nolan

Instead of making major cuts in its budget, the Board of Commissioners of the Cook County Forest Preserve District has approved more than a dozen studies to try to determine ways to reduce costs and improve services.

The same board that was unwilling to approve President John Stroger's $3 billion county budget, which called for significant tax increases, voted in favor of the $40 million Forest Preserve budget that requires a slight increase in the property tax.

The final vote was 12-4 after a session of nearly eight hours on Dec. 10. Just the day before the commissioners were split down the middle on the county budget and President Stroger was forced to postpone a vote.

Commissioners of the Cook County Board also serve as the Board of the Forest Preserve District.

A bipartisan group of reform-minded commissioners was defeated in their attempt to include $9 million worth of spending and personnel cuts in the new Forest Preserve budget.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin of Glenview, R-14th, may have reflected the majority view when he said: "The district now has good leadership in Superintendent Steve Bylina. He's doing things I've wanted done for years, replacing the deplorable restrooms with portable toilets, instituting a graffiti eradication program and providing signage for our trails. Bylina and his staff need a chance to show what they're made of."

Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston, D-13th said: "Even though our amendments didn't pass, we're putting people on notice that we're going to demand accountability in the future. I intend to set up some type of award similar to what Bill Proxmire (former U.S. senator from Wisconsin) used to have, his Golden Fleece award, periodically pointing to where there are still problems in the system and where there are people taking advantage of us."

Here are some items the board asked its staff to look into in the coming months:

* adequate police staffing for the preserves;

* the possible use of a private scavenger service to pick up garbage;

* the continuation of free parking at picnic groves;

* the erection of additional fencing to keep deer out of the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

The board voted against a study on separation of the Forest Preserve District from the Cook County Board. Commissioner Carl Hansen of Mount Prospect R-15th, the sponsor, said it was being done successfully in DuPage County.

Hansen described the Forest Preserve District as "a jewel of Cook County," that might get better attention with a separate board.

Another proposal, that would consider changing the Forest Preserve District to a Bureau of Forestry within Cook County government, also was defeated.

The wave of studies will all be done by staff reportedly at no additional cost to the county. But Commissioner Mike Quigley, Chicago, D-10th, pointed out that 16 similar studies approved in last year's budget were never completed and delivered to the board.

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