The job of bringing state money back to the Kane County Forest Preserve District will now fall to commissioners themselves, now that they decided to go without a lobbyist for the first time in at least 15 years.
But not all commissioners are convinced now is the time for the district to forgo a constant presence in Springfield.
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The decision may be influenced by both politics and a desire to cut costs.
Karen Ramey performed the lobbying duties for the district at a cost of about $1,000 per month. Ramey is a longtime political operative in Kane County. She is a former columnist for Patch.com. And she played a role in getting Chris Lauzen elected as Kane County chairman, though she no longer counts herself among the members of Lauzen's inner circle.
Forest district President John Hoscheit put the lobbyist position out for competitive bids for the first time in recent years with the district's new fiscal year looming. Ramey elected not to put in a bid, but all the potential replacements all quoted prices beyond the $12,000 a year the district paid for lobbying.
As a result, Hoscheit recommended dumping the lobbyist position Friday during a meeting of the district's executive committee. He said the bulk of the district's lobbying can be performed through the Illinois Association of Park Districts. Hoscheit is a board member for that association.
"They have an intense lobbying arm," Hoscheit said. "We've decided, in light of budget constraints, that this is an area where we could save some money, at least for a period of time."
Forest commissioners also serve as Kane County Board members. As such, they've committed to holding the property tax levies flat for both entities as long as possible. But the forest district already needed a $150,000 bailout from the county's riverboat grant funds to keep its levy flat in the current fiscal year.
Monica Meyers, the forest district's executive director, told commissioners they won't be able to rely on the park district association for all of the forest district's needs.
"When it comes to legislation, the IAPD is very good at that," Meyers said. "Where we need to be more vigilant is with our specific needs. They are not going to go and try to get money for the Kane County Forest Preserve District."
That's a key issue as the district relies on state grants for many of its projects. Commissioner Jesse Vazquez just returned from his own trip to Springfield. He said the state lawmakers with whom he visited already bemoaned the lack of a Kane County presence in Springfield to weigh in on legislative matters, much less funding opportunities.
"When I asked them how we could be more effective, their number one theme was that the main people they depended on for their communication about local needs are lobbyists," Vazquez said. "I thought that was strange, but it's the way business is done in Springfield."
Vazquez was the lone voice of dissent.