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updated: 6/19/2012 3:17 PM

DuPage forest passes $42 million budget

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DuPage County Forest Preserve officials have approved a total operating budget of nearly $42 million for 2012-13, a decrease of more than 4 percent from last year.

"You wanted to show your financial responsibility to the people of DuPage County," President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said to finance staff.

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Local residents fund the budget with their property taxes, which are about $140 annually for the owner of a $300,000 home. That equals roughly 2 percent of a total property tax bill to take care of more than 25,000 acres of land and 60 preserves.

To keep the budget balanced, district staff and elected officials have taken several steps to cut costs in recent years, including freezing annual staff raises. Commissioners also recently cut their own pay from roughly $57,000 to $53,500.

The new budget, however, includes a 2 percent salary raise for full and part-time staff.

In addition, Finance Director Jack Hogan said five full-time positions were permanently eliminated from the roughly 350-person employee roster.

The budget also includes many upgrades and projects happening at area forest preserves and at the district headquarters. This year, the district will complete its "Observe Your Preserve" web feature, which will offer interactive field guides for forest preserves and a place for the public to share their outdoor experiences. Other new Internet features will include an online program-registration and permit-sales system, to make the process quicker for both staff and residents.

The district will also be able to make changes in the preserves with help from both grants and debt management. Thanks to a grant from the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program, Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville will have a new archery and recreation complex.

And at St. James Farm, also near Warrenville, workers will expand programming and infrastructure with trail improvements, municipal waterline connections, and the completion of a main entrance at Winfield Road and a new paved parking lot.

Part of the St. James work will be paid for because commissioners voted early this year to refinance roughly $38 million in debt at lower interest rates and to borrow another $4 million to be used for upgrading preserves. Officials said this was accomplished without affecting tax rates for DuPage homeowners.

Commissioner Mike Formento complimented staff Tuesday for working out a slimmer budget, referencing their previously skipped pay raises.

"I know it was a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices you had to make," Formento said.

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