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updated: 10/17/2012 10:19 PM

Picnics, golf to cost more next year in Cook County

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It will cost more to picnic and golf at Cook County Forest Preserve properties next year if the proposed budget is approved today.

The district's property tax levy won't increase from last year, said Arnold Randall, the district's general superintendent.

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But the district will increase golf fees for the first time in five years and picnic permits for the first time in seven years. Those increases as well as small hikes in the district's other "non-tax" revenue is expected to generate an additional $300,000.

Fees at 10 of the districts 11 golf facilities will go up $1 more, while it will cost $2 more next year at George Dunne Golf Course near Orland Park.

Picnic permits will increase $2 for smaller parties under 100 people. Events with 1,000 or more people at district picnic areas will cost $200 more, rising from $760 to $960. The district averages about 6,000 permit requests for parties of less than 100 each year, while only about 20 permits are issued each year to use district facilities for parties of 1,000 or more.

Randall said nonprofit groups will continue to receive a 50 percent discount on those costs. The permit costs don't include "surcharges" the district also tacks on.

The district's operating costs are expected to run similar to this year's at $190 million, but will require less dependence on the district's reserve fund. This year's budget called for the district to pull $8 million from its reserves, while next year they will only rely on $1.9 million of the district's savings to make ends meet, said Chief Financial Officer Mark Thomas.

Randall said they are planning "much bigger things" for the district in the future, including more active recreation programs. He said the district has to strike a balance between maintaining open space for passive recreational use and providing activities for county residents and visitors. He said "zip lines" have been a popular request.

The district expects to add three full-time positions next year. One post will manage minority and women-owned businesses' vendor contracts. The district is also looking to hire a concessions manager to increase the quality and profitability of the district's offerings. Randall said the third new position will be an additional architect to help with the increased workload created from the district's capital improvement program.

The district will also continue to help subsidize the Brookfield Zoo to the tune of $14.9 million next year and the Botanic Garden as well, which will receive $9.3 million.

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