Tax levy will drop under new Lake County forest district budget
Lake County property values have increased for the second consecutive year, but it won't cause a bump in the forest preserve district portion of property tax bills, officials say.
In fact, the amount the district says it needs to collect from property owners will drop nearly $694,000 from the previous year as a result of savings from refinancing debt.
"The payment on the debt service is going down $900,000 and over the next 10 or 11 years, it will save the taxpayers over $10 million," forest board President Ann Maine said.
That's among the general conditions outlined in the 2017-18 budget, which begins July 1. The plan was approved Tuesday by the full board, which had reviewed it previously in a five-hour session.
The balanced budget calls for total expenditures of $73.6 million, well below the current $88.9 million. That is mainly the result of a decline in capital spending from $30.4 million in this year's budget to $15.2 million.
"I wouldn't say it's because we are doing less," said Steve Neaman, the district's finance director. "Land acquisition dollars are down, I guess that's part of it."
Among the projects planned in the coming year are the relocation and expansion of the Lake County Discovery Museum from Lakewood Forest Preserve to the district offices in Libertyville; a dog park at the Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserve; and a parking lot, trail and overlooks at the Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch.
Operating expenditures will increase $769,154, or 2.4 percent. That covers staffing, technology needs, and the museum opening. Officials noted the operating budget is $1.9 million (5.6 percent) less than in 2008-09, despite increases in the amount of land, trails and facilities in the district during that time.
Property values, a key element of tax bills, dropped nearly 26 percent between 2008 and 2014, according to the district. As a result, every expense has been scrutinized.
"We've been extremely conservative, and it's served us well," said Executive Director Ty Kovach.
The budget also includes $3.26 million for land acquisition, which represents the last of $148 million approved by voters in 2008. Any property acquired in the foreseeable future will not see immediate upgrades like trails and public access points.