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Article posted: 2/22/2013 9:37 PM

Two proposals target DuPage County Forest Preserve District

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- Two state lawmakers from DuPage County have separately looked to the DuPage County Forest Preserve District as a way to save local taxpayers money, either by taking away board members' salaries or dissolving the district altogether.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, has filed legislation that eventually would give the forest preserve district's responsibilities back to DuPage County, the way it was more than 10 years ago.

Reboletti says the district has done a lot of good work, but he argues the county can handle the job once again.

Plus, he said, he's served on a task force examining the consolidation of local governments to save money, and those efforts need to move beyond just study.

"I think the time to act is now," Reboletti said.

Separately, state Rep. Deborah Conroy, an Elmhurst Democrat, is sponsoring legislation that would take away DuPage County Forest Preserve board members' salaries. But the district would still exist. The six board members make about $53,000 apiece per year.

Reboletti and Conroy both say they're willing to work together on a bill.

"I think that all elected officials need to cut all the waste they can," Conroy said.

Forest Preserve District President D. Dewey Pierotti pushed back. He said the interests of the county board and the environmental goals of the forest district sometimes conflict.

Plus, Pierotti said he'd want to see a detailed accounting of the savings.

"We have a balanced budget. We pay all our bills on time," Pierotti said.

Late Friday, DuPage County board member JR McBride announced a hearing to talk about the issue. The hearing will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Room 3-500A of the DuPage County Administration Building, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton.

"Before legislation of this magnitude is voted on in Springfield, I think it is important that all sides of the issue are explored," McBride said in a statement. "While I am open to the idea of a study to analyze a possible merger, I do not believe this bill has any merit until due diligence has been given on the subject."

The forest preserve district was separated about 10 years ago over concerns county board members couldn't balance development and environmental concerns.

The state lawmakers' efforts come as the forest district faces investigations into contract steering. And DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin talked with Pierotti at a meeting last year about consolidation.

Cronin says he's aware of both lawmakers' proposals but isn't pushing either.

He said the most important part of the discussion should be protecting the forest district's mission.

"The only thing that should matter is the commitment to open space preservation" and the district's other goals, Cronin said.

Cronin said he voted for creating the forest district while a member of the General Assembly, but 10 years later, consolidation might be worth at least some discussion.

"Anytime you propose changes, it creates a little controversy," he said.

Both proposals are far from becoming law and await a preliminary hearing in the Illinois House.

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