Balanced budget, modest spending increases recommended for Lake forest preserve

The Lake County Forest Preserve District's proposed $66.8 million 2024 budget is balanced and features some increased spending for new and returning programs.

That total is nearly $24 million less than last year's budget, which included a large number of capital and habitat restoration projects, like the Ryerson net-zero education building and Lakewood master plan.

Operating expenses, excluding debt service, are up about 2.5% from last year.

Proposed funding includes educational materials for a referendum to issue bonds for land acquisition and development; a limited number of new employees and equipment; and a 2.8% increase in the overall tax levy, a rate less than allowable under state rules.

Generally, assessed property values are rebounding and expected to be up more than 8%, the highest since 2016. Higher values in recent years helped offset declines of nearly 26% from 2008 to 2014, which led to pervasive belt tightening.

Full-time positions have been reduced 9% from about 305 employees in 2009. Two additional full-time and one part-time employee are planned for 2024 to bring the current district total to about 278.

As for taxes, the anticipated tax levy to be collected in 2024 is about $51 million. That's up almost 2.7% from last year, but $10.7 million below the total levy in 2009.

The owner of a home valued at $250,000 is expected to pay about $129 to the district, an increase of $3.52 from last year.

Among the proposed operating additions is a mental health benefit program; shifting concert in the plaza revenues to the districts endowment campaign; the return of Afrofest and a Latino cultural event and a program celebrating cicadas; hiring security for large events; and referendum educational materials.

The district in November 2024 will be asking voters for authority to borrow between $155 million and $255 million by issuing bonds for a variety of capital projects, habitat restoration and land acquisition.

Golf revenues, which have performed at a high level since the pandemic, are expected to continue to increase and will offset rising costs, such as an increase in the minimum wage.

Golf is an enterprise fund that pays for itself and expenditures come from the tax levy, officials said. New in that area will be two unmanned electric machines to collect golf balls and cut grass, allowing staff to be allocated to other areas.

Forest commissioners meeting in joint committees Monday recommended approval of the proposed 2024 budget. An official vote will be taken Oct. 11.

The forest preserve district's property tax levy is less than 2% of the total levy on a typical homeowner's tax bill.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.