New contract for Lake County forest preserve chief

Amid continuing changes, Lake County Forest Preserve District officials have renewed their confidence in the top hired employee with a new contract.

After two years at the helm, Alex Ty Kovach will continue as executive director of the more than 30,000-acre system. The forest board Tuesday approved a one-year contract retroactive to June 12 with automatic annual renewals. He will be paid a base salary of $193,523.

When he was selected in April 2013 to replace Tom Hahn, Kovach was working for a company that managed a group of private islands in the Republic of Mozambique. He also had served 15 years with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, including seven years as operations manager.

Kovach brought an analytical, data-based business perspective to the public body and he has taken several steps designed to change the traditional ways of thinking and position the district for the future.

"We've got the 100-year vision out there. We're working on strategies and goals," said Ann Maine, forest district president. "The only way we're going to be able to do those things is if we have a real good financial understanding and basis."

Kovach initiated a major staff restructuring and he has been guiding a strategic plan, which includes short- and long-term goals toward a "100-year vision" considered the basis for decision-making.

"We have a clear road map for the future. The architecture behind the scenes has been a big part of this for me," he said.

One impetus for the changes has been a declining property tax base and the need for the district to sustain itself going forward. He follows basic tenets: standardize as much as possible, leverage resources, and use what you have.

"He came with a really strong business and private sector background. Property values are still decreasing. Revenue is going down," Maine said.

Kovach has combed the organization to identify savings and efficiencies and has instituted policies and procedures designed to save money and raise revenue. Land has been a good buy in recent years, for example, but the district has been scrutinizing potential purchases.

"We have 30,000-plus acres. We'd like to continue to add to that if it makes sense," Kovach said. "We're being very, very specific in what we target. We have to answer the question, 'Why?'"

Another ongoing directive is to determine hidden and the true costs of whatever is being done. "Right sizing" a parking lot, for example, ensures no more or less than is needed is spent to build and maintain it, Kovach said.

"I'm a conservationist at heart, but I'm a realistic conservationist," he said. "In order to get where we need to go, I have to pay really close attention to the numbers."

That has included ongoing possibilities, such as generating income by leasing land for cell towers or renting a portion of its Libertyville headquarters, which requires state legislation.

"I don't want to give people the impression we're looking to commercialize everything, but at the very least, we should look into it," Maine said of the cell tower issue.

Beyond the numbers, Kovach said he plans to introduce a "completely different way of thinking" about how to provide public access to facilities.

"The board's excited," Maine said. "The neat thing is the board feels he's pushing us in really good ways to look at some things differently."


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