November 15, 2016
(CHICAGO) In an analysis released today, the Civic Federation announced its support for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s proposed FY2017 budget of $192.4 million because it includes measures to reduce costs and generate additional revenue in order to offset rising personnel costs and a reduction in the Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT). The full 67-page analysis is available here.
To balance out increased expenditures tied to collective bargaining agreements, higher debt service payments and an increase in the statutorily required pension payment, the District is proposing management efficiencies and evidence-based fee changes for the use of Forest Preserve amenities.
“The District’s updated fee schedule is a common-sense step to help balance its budget,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “In addition to prudent expenditure reductions, the Federation supports the assessment-based fee increases aimed at recovering needed revenue from those who benefit from using Forest Preserve facilities.”
The proposed fee structure includes increased fees for the use of campground sites, a 10% premium charged to non-Cook County residents, attendance-based picnic permit charges and discounts for use of facilities during off-peak times. Cost-savings initiatives include outsourcing operation of the Forest Preserves’ aquatic centers and reductions to print advertising, professional services and the vehicle fleet, among others. The District will also moderately increase its property tax levy by $1.4 million, including new property, increasing the levy to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) limit, which is 0.7%, and for increased debt service.
The Civic Federation remains concerned about the District’s acknowledged financial challenges. These include its pension funding gap, reduced PPRT funding from the State of Illinois, significant salary and wage increases driven by collective bargaining agreements and the absence of a sustainable plan for funding the District’s land restoration needs. The Federation continues to believe that the governance structure under which Cook County Commissioners are responsible for overseeing County operations and the Forest Preserves is detrimental to the District’s mission of land preservation and environmental education for residents of Cook County.
As detailed in the report, the Civic Federation recommends that the District improve its capital planning process, continue working with Cook County officials and the Illinois General Assembly on pension funding and reform, establish a governing board separate from the Cook County Board of Commissioners, identify a sustainable revenue source to fund its Next Century Conservation Plan and promote incorporation of unincorporated Forest Preserve land.