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updated: 1/9/2013 5:05 AM

Lake County forest district considers bond issue

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The Lake County Forest Preserve District plans to issue nearly $25 million in bonds to buy land and improve facilities as part of a large funding package approved by voters about four years ago.

Scheduled for Feb. 11, the bond sale, which is a form of borrowing, will be the fifth issue in a planned series of six to raise funds to acquire, preserve, and restore properties and make public access improvements.

"We've had this issue planned for at least two years," said Bonnie McLeod, the district's finance manager.

McLeod said it is part of the district's long-term debt planning involving the $185 million in total bonding approved by voters in November 2008.

Once the total was secured, the forest board agreed that 80 percent of the money, or $148 million, would be used for land preservation and acquisition, and 20 percent, or $37 million, for habitat restoration projects and public access improvements.

A total of $135 million has been issued to date, with the vast majority for land acquisition in what has been a buyer's market for real estate. Originally, state law required the district to issue the full amount of the bonds by October 2013, but the time frame has been extended by five years.

"We went to the state legislature and got an extension on our authority to issue the bonds," McLeod said. "During the recession, we thought it was a good idea to keep the tax rate flat." Bond debt has been incurred as other expenses are retired, she added, so the rate doesn't increase.

The forest board's finance and administrative committee last summer decided to proceed with a 2013 bond issue, in part, to secure favorable interest rates, and to provide needed land acquisition and development funds.

The sale will provide $15 million for land acquisition and $10 million for restoration and public access projects in the current budget year and in the five-year capital improvement plan. At the moment, only about $5.2 million to buy land remains.

Among the big ticket items to be funded this year with bond proceeds are tunnels at Wilson Road near Round Lake and Rollins Road near Round Lake Beach, to provide connections for the Millennium Trail.

Each are estimated at $2.5 million.

"We're hoping to get grants, and if we do, that money will be reallocated to other projects," McLeod said.

Other planned projects include restoration of the North Mill Creek stream corridor by "dewatering" a private lake, public access improvements at Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch and construction of trails at the Fox River Preserve addition near Tower Lakes.

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