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President Preckwinkle Presents 2016 Budget Recommendation

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Special to suffredin.org

President Preckwinkle Presents 2016 Budget Recommendation

for the Forest Preserves of Cook County

Forest Preserve of Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle introduced the 2016 Budget Recommendation to the Forest Preserve of Cook County Board of Commissioners. The budget operationalizes specific goals outlined in the FPCC’s Next Century Conservation Plan which was formally adopted in 2015 and provides the following goals:

  • Restoring ecological health and protecting the diversity of plants and animals that depend on the preserves.
  • Providing well-maintained buildings, trails and other facilities, and making them accessible to all county residents.
  • Increasing outreach to underserved communities and expanding educational and recreational opportunities for all residents.
  • Managing with excellence, transparency, and sound financial practice.

As residents of the third largest metropolis in the nation, our Forest Preserves offer Cook County residents the chance to experience nature in an unparalleled way, said President Toni Preckwinkle. “I am pleased to introduce this budget for the Forest Preserves, which recommends no tax increases to individuals or businesses and no increases to fees and services.”

The proposed budget includes a request for total appropriation authority of $190.2 million--an increase of less than 2% compared to 2015. This assumes no increase in the number of full time employees, but does include a modest increase of four part-time and/or seasonal employees.

This budget also holds consistent the amount of money given by the Forest Preserves to support the operations of the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden with $14.9 million and $9.3 million dollars respectively.

The Corporate Fund, or operating budget of $65.6 million, is balanced without raising homeowners’ property taxes, without increases to fees or fines, and without a transfer from Corporate Fund Balance or reserve funds. The Corporate Fund supports the day-to-day activities of 11 departments and district-wide expenses. The 2016 Corporate Fund reflects a small increase of $3.5 million over 2015.

The major increase in the operating budget is due to anticipated Cost of Living Increase, patterned after the County’s collective bargaining agreements and salary resolutions.

The budget does include a transfer of $8.2 million dollars from reserve funds to the Capital Improvement Fund—including $6 million to enable the FPCC to continue its critical work to restore the preserves to ecological health, and $2 million to renovate deteriorated facilities and make life-safety and accessibility improvements.

In the last several years, the Forest Preserves made significant capital improvements funded by a $110 million in 2012 General Obligation bonds which were completed in 2015 including $29 million five new and revitalized campgrounds which have already hosted more than 8,500 visitors since a staggered opening Memorial Day Weekend.

In 2015, we committed an additional $6 million dollars in major new trail improvements in addition to completing three loop trail projects that started in 2014. Trail improvements better connect people and communities to the preserves, increasing transportation options, creating links between the preserves themselves, improving residents’ health through the use of natural spaces, and contributing to the region’s economic vitality.

In total we built or renovated 24 miles of trail across 8 major trails across the County. The largest section was a 7-miles stretch of the western segment Cal-Sag Trail which opened on National Trails Day this summer.

Public attendance also increased at our six nature centers by nearly 43,000 people according to third quarter reports from 2014 to 2015.

“We have made critical investments in the preserves and will continue to address ADA and life-safety improvements 2016,” said General Superintendent Arnold Randall. “While we continue to move forward on our ambitious Next Century Conservation Plan goals, the 2016 budget remains only recommends a modest increase.

Recognizing the current fiscal realities faced by most government agencies, the 2016 Budget Recommendation the pursuit of additional sources of non-tax revenue and cultivate more resources from partners and volunteers.

This includes expanding concession revenue by developing a Master Plan for Concessions and pursuing non-traditional sources of funding such as corporate sponsorships, public-private partnerships as well as working with the Forest Preserves Foundation to leverage support from the private sector. Additional cost cutting measures will also be explored to identify efficiencies and cost reductions through potential outsourcing of certain operations.

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