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updated: 10/26/2011 9:12 PM

Cook Forest Preserve budget calls for personnel spending

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The new leadership at the Cook County Forest Preserve District is proposing 16 new full-time jobs and 20 to 30 new part-time positions in next year's $195 million budget.

Arnold Randall, who is finishing his first year at the helm of the district as general superintendent, said the positions will be added without raising taxes or fees.

Most of the 16 full-time jobs will be at the maintenance and groundskeeping levels.

"More boots on the ground," Randall said. "Part of our philosophy is if we don't look good and aren't inviting, people are not going to come back, or even come at all."

Other full-time positions will focus on volunteers, he said. The part-time jobs will be seasonal workers who maintain public areas of the forest preserves.

Money to pay for the new positions is anticipated to come from increased revenues expected from state disbursements as well as user fees and licenses, such as pool fees and picnic shelter permits. New forest preserve Chief Financial Officer Mark Thomas is anticipating about $870,000 more revenue will be generated compared to last year, with about 75 percent of that going toward new personnel.

Most county agencies are cutting personnel either through layoffs or attrition. Randall said the forest preserve district is able to add bodies to its roster of nearly 500 employees because it's been operating at a surplus since 2003. District officials said they plan on extending the season at district facilities by getting warm-weather outdoor venues ready for users earlier in the year and keeping them open into November. Randall said the addition of the part-time jobs gives the district the flexibility to do that.

Randall said the district has made internal changes that make it more cost-effective as well on the heels of a self-imposed operational audit that recommended 118 changes to make the agency more efficient.

Randall said a big issue was that it appeared that none of the employees had ever undergone job evaluations in the past.

"There wasn't a whole lot of discipline going on," he said.

The district still has to have its budget approved by the Cook County Board. Board President Toni Preckwinkle is expected to outline the budget proposal today.

The Forest Preserve District also subsidizes the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden to the tune of $15.5 million and $9.6 million respectively. But each facility is also responsible for the majority of its own fundraising. The zoo is expected to raise $48.5 million on its own next year and the Botanic Garden anticipated revenues of $19.8 million.

The district has also earmarked a little more than $10 million for land acquisition, but officials said no large single parcel purchases are planned.

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