In a break from past practices, the Lake County Forest Preserve District board decided Tuesday to use about $1.1 million in surplus funds to pay down debt over the next two years, rather than spending it on projects.
About $535,000 in interest income that also was part of a $1.6 million surplus will be used for projects, such as solar gates, designed to reduce operating costs.
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The 16-5 decision ended a lengthy philosophical debate that was discussed during the past several weeks at nine different forest board committee meetings.
Those who voted against the measure said residents would rather see improvements at forest preserve facilities than have the tax levy reduced by a few dollars, and that it will become more difficult to fund projects as property values drop.
Supporters contended taxpayers need relief, whatever the amount, and paying down debt was a sound principal during tough economic times.
"In the end, both groups were looking for a way to represent the taxpayers and save them money," board President Ann Maine said before the vote. "This compromise looks to the needs of current and future residents."
The $1.6 million surplus became available when a 2003 bond issue was paid off. The district each year levies enough to pay principal and interest on bonds, but the county adds a contingency. Any surplus is kept in a separate account and generates interest.
In past years, the board used such surpluses for land acquisition, projects or a combination.
The $1.1 million will be applied to debt service in tax levies the next two years. During that time, the abatement will amount to a total savings on paper of about $2.70 for the owner of a home value at $200,000.