Lake County creates new position to focus on green programs

Posted11/12/2013 6:06 PM

Lake County officials on Tuesday reinforced their commitment to so-called sustainable practices in separate actions involving local regulations and the 2014-15 budget.

In the first instance, the county board unanimously agreed to relax standards to allow for keeping bees, hens and hoophouses used exclusively for food production.

The new regulations apply to residential properties in unincorporated areas and come after extensive public input at several meetings. Before the changes, those activities were allowed only on agricultural parcels of about five acres or more.

Effective immediately, two beehives will be allowed on lots up to 10,000 square feet or about a quarter acre, with an additional hive for each extra 10,000 square feet; up to six hens can be kept on residential lots of at least 10,000 square feet, increasing to as many as 12 hens on a lot of 80,000 square feet or more. Roosters aren't allowed on less than five acres; and, hoophouses of up to 50 square feet are allowed for each 10,000 square feet of residential lot area.

The rules outline standards for the set up and maintenance of beehives, chicken coops and hoophouses. Permits will be required with enforcement through the adjudication process.

"These are the kinds of things that make Lake County a great place to live," Sarah Surroz, conservation and outreach director for Conserve Lake County, told the board just before the vote. The group is among several that have been working with the county on local food initiatives.

The county board also decided to put a more specific focus on activities involving sustainable initiatives, such as conservation, by including a new position in the $488 million 2014 budget, which begins Dec. 1.

The "sustainability director" post will receive a salary of $85,000 plus benefits.

"This will be a person who in essence will be leading our green initiatives," said County Administrator Barry Burton, who will craft a job description for the post. "Up until now, we've had teams of people who do it as an extra duty. There are things we haven't had time to get to and this would enable us to do more," he added.

Hiring a full-time expert was not without debate.

County Board member Pat Carey of Grayslake, who is co-chair of the Lake County Local Food Working Group, introduced the idea of hiring an expert as a new program request in the budget.

She said environmental stewardship has been a perennial goal of the county board.

"We want to focus on this ... to make more progress," Carey said.

But County Board member Brent Paxton of Zion, who chairs the finance committee, said the work could be done by filling the position of assistant county administrator, which has been vacant. That person could be cross trained to assist in other duties as well, he contended.

"We have just dictated to Barry (Burton) how he runs his office," Paxton said. "We need to keep our hands out of the hiring process." His motion to remove the position from the budget failed 18-3.

As for the overall budget, Paxton said it shows the board's strong fiscal policies. The balanced budget has been flat and is $10 million lower than three years ago, he said.

"This personifies the mantra we've had the past three years -- we don't spend money we don't have," he said.

Lake County again has been rated AAA by two top bond rating agencies. About 1 percent of the budget is tied up in debt, Paxton added, which allows the county to use more cash and borrow less for projects.

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