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updated: 6/17/2011 5:29 AM

DuPage United takes aim at forest district spending

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Having taken partial credit for the recent restructuring of the DuPage Water Commission, a local nonprofit taxpayer and social services advocacy group has set its sights on another government agency.

Members of DuPage United announced during their Delegate Assembly, held Tuesday night at St. Mary's Catholic Church in West Chicago, that they are about to launch an investigation into the finances of the DuPage Forest Preserve.

Currently the district receives about 3 cents of every county property-tax dollar, just short of the amount collected by DuPage County.

"We have begun looking at the DuPage Forest Preserve District because forest reserves are highly valued in DuPage County and we want the district to thrive," Hani Atassi said. "Funding for the district comes primarily from the real estate taxes which we entrust to six elected commissioners. We expect them to be a good steward to our shared land as well as our tax dollars."

Atassi said the organization takes issue with the part-time members being paid about $55,000 and health benefits. He also took issue with the $107,000 salary, benefits and monthly car allowance paid to District President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr.

"The forest preserve district budget for 2011 shows over $700,000 for the commissioners," Atassi said. "The district does not seem to be stretched for cash like other government units."

When asked if any district representatives were present, no one identified themselves.

A telephone message left at Pierotti's home following the meeting was not returned Thursday night.

DuPage United members said it was the second time recently that they have invited Pierotti to meet and both times, they said, he either declined at the last minute or did not respond.

Organization member Mary Hason said she hopes DuPage United can help the district with its efforts to be more transparent.

"We haven't looked in their direction before, but now we are, and we're going to be asking a lot of questions and taking a good look at where that money goes," she said.

Atassi said DuPage United has already suggested the forest preserve consider hiring a private, outside firm to review their day-to-day finances and engage in more competitive bidding.

Both of those suggestions, he said, fell on deaf ears.

"We will continue with this position and we will ask a lot of questions. We'll do our homework and we will seek a working relationship with the forest preserve president and commissioners," Atassi said. "We will be persistent, thorough and fair, and if the forest preserve proves to be well run, accountable and transparent, we will recognize that. If not, our findings will be made known throughout the county and state."

During Thursday's meeting, the organization also received confirmation from DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin that he will assist them in creating after school programs for underserved youth and that he will assist them with lessening recent restrictions put on religious institutions looking to locate in residential neighborhoods.

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