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Article updated: 11/14/2012 5:51 PM

DuPage forest officials clash over taxes

By Elisabeth Mistretta

The tax levy that supports operations of the DuPage County Forest Preserve is set to increase, over the objections of one forest commissioner.

Linda Painter was the lone opponent of an operating tax levy of about $26 million, which is about $865,000 more than last year. The levy will be up for a vote Nov. 20.

"This is a tough economic time and I want to see people's taxes go down or stay flat," Painter said. "I think we need to manage our budget better."

Commissioners Roger Kotecki, Carl Schultz, Joe Cantore and forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. all argued that the district is acting responsibly.

Kotecki said the district's only other major source of money is landfill reserves, and the district is significantly spending down that fund with such projects as a bridge and trail to connect Mallard Lake and Hawk Hallow forest preserves near Hanover Park that will ultimately cost the district $1.5 million.

"It makes sense to do what you can under the tax cap (which limits government spending). You can't recover that later when the economy gets better," Kotecki said. "If you don't, you're putting yourself in a position to have to ask the voters for money sooner."

Kotecki also noted residents' tax bills are technically dropping. That's because the entire district tax levy is about $53.1 million -- with roughly $26 million for operating costs, plus more than $27 million to retire loans. And because forest preserve debt payments have been reduced, residents will ultimately pay $177,000 less than last year.

But residents won't see any significant difference in their bills.

"Wise management of landfill funds have enabled us for more than a decade to provide (residents) with recreation and conservation without having to bear the brunt of it in their taxes," Schultz said. "I don't know another organization that's that forward-thinking."

Kotecki and Pierotti also argued in favor of the plan when Painter argued the operating tax levy should not give staff "carte blanche" to spend.

"I would not call a 2 percent increase in salary base carte blanche, especially since salaries were flat for many years," Kotecki said. "The extra money is to reward the extra work they've been doing. That is what a decent people and a decent group of taxpayers ought to do for the people that work for them. We keep adding things because people expect us to."

Pierotti and Cantore said the tax increase is necessary, because many residents don't realize the work and funds that go into maintaining the forest preserves.

"I have yet to get a phone call from a constituent saying you have too many hours, trails, programs, or do too much maintenance." Pierotti said. "I agree totally with commissioners Schultz and Kotecki this is the cost of doing business."

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