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A "Yes" Vote for Cook County Forest Preserve 2017 Budget and a Call for a Referendum

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Special to suffredin.org

I voted for a 2017 Cook County Forest Preserve District Budget on December 13, 2016 that is essentially the same as the last three years. Last year I warned that the 2016 Budget was:

"... the best we can do now, but it is a budget that reveals the structural weakness of the "Non-Home Rule" Cook County Forest Preserve District. Unlike Cook County which is a "Home Rule" government, the Forest Preserves can only raise operating funds through property taxes that are capped; fees from earned services i.e. camp ground rentals, golf fees; and fines from those abusing our public lands through unlawful acts. These sources of income are all limited and are not adequate to properly fund essential activities. This is the last year that a flat budget makes sense. Our duty as the largest preservation land owner in the State requires better resources."

The 2017 Budget continues to provide: 1. limited support and encouragement for our volunteers, 2. limited resources for our staff, 3. limited restoration opportunities for our land, 4. limited strategies to acquire additional land, 5. improvements in recreational opportunities, and 6. expansion of intern opportunities.

This Budget is the second to have input from the Conservation Council whose role is to help us create a clear vision for the future. Led by Chair Wendy Paulson, this Council has called for expanded restoration and land acquisition that are not funded in this budget.

The Budget continues our support of the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Brookfield Zoo, but at levels that are way too low to assist either in performing their missions. These two jewels anchor our outreach and educational programming. Neither the Garden nor the Zoo can continue their level of excellence without increased funding. The need to develop plans to help the Garden and the Zoo expand their positive programming and to provide further opportunities to improve our land will require dynamic new ideas.

As with last year, this budget does not address the major governmental issue facing our state - pension payments. As with all Illinois governments, we must - as an employer - have a funding plan.

Last year I warned that you can only keep a minimal maintenance budget for so long before you threaten all the good you do. I had hoped that this year there would be significant planning to make the 2017 budget a model for the future. That planning did not occur and now we must look for bold steps or we will fail.

It is time to trust our voters and ask them to approve a referendum to do three things:

1. Approve funds to expand restoration services on our land;

2. Acquire additional land while some still exists; and

3. Increase our subsidies to the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

A referendum is the only way Cook County Forest Preserve District can obtain the funds it needs to fulfill its mission. The earliest a referendum could be held is 2018. Now is the time to plan. We need to trust that our voters will give us wise guidance, so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our land.



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