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posted: 5/8/2012 3:55 PM

Forest district officials setting aside $15 million for land buys

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  • Lake County Forest Preserve District Commissioner Brent Paxton said he voted against the budget for several reasons, including how the Fox River Forest Preserve and Marina in Barrington is classified in the spending plan.

       Lake County Forest Preserve District Commissioner Brent Paxton said he voted against the budget for several reasons, including how the Fox River Forest Preserve and Marina in Barrington is classified in the spending plan.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, 2010

 
 

Lake County Forest Preserve District officials expect to spend $15 million on unspecified land purchases over the next fiscal year, a newly adopted budget shows.

Officials also plan to spend $10 million on preservation efforts and improvement projects in the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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The $114 million budget approved by the forest board Tuesday morning is nearly 38 percent greater than its roughly $82.9 million predecessor because of those planned purchases, administrators said before the vote.

The money to pay for the land deals will come from $185 million in loans voters approved in 2008 rather than new property-tax increases. Forest district officials will collect fewer dollars from property taxes over the next year than they did during the current fiscal year, Executive Director Tom Hahn said.

That's the fourth such decrease in a row, he said.

"The district remains in very good financial standing, and I intend to keep it that way," Hahn said.

According to the budget, officials expect to collect nearly $65.3 million in taxes, fees and other revenue over the next year. They balanced the budget by including the $25 million from the 2008 loans and about $23.8 million from savings to cover costs.

While anticipated land purchases are driving up the budget's price tag, operating costs -- covering salaries, contracts and other daily expenses -- are expected to increase only about 3 percent, said Bonnie McLeod, the district's finance director. They'll grow to roughly $31 million, up from about $30.2 million.

The budget includes several efficiency-minded steps, Hahn said, including staff reductions, the elimination of unnecessary buildings and office consolidations, he said.

The spending plan reflects "the economic conditions we are all facing," Hahn said.

Following a presentation by McLeod, commissioners voted 20-2 to approve the budget. They had reviewed the proposal at previous committee meetings and did not debate the plan Tuesday.

Without any public explanation, Deerfield Democrat Michelle Feldman and Zion Republican Brent Paxton cast the only "no" votes.

After the meeting, Feldman told the Daily Herald she opposed the budget because she thinks the benefits packages offered to employees -- including 2.5-percent raises and increases for health insurance and retirement payouts -- are "too rich."

In a separate interview, Paxton said he had a few objections, the largest concerning how officials chose to classify the Fox River Forest Preserve and Marina in Barrington.

The operation formerly had been considered a self-sufficient enterprise that covered its expenses with the revenue it generated, Paxton said. The county's golf courses are classified that way.

But in the 2012 budget and again in the new document, the preserve's financials are included in general operating accounts -- and Paxton objects.

"I think it should stand on its own," he said.

The budget can be viewed online at lcfpd.org.

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