Lake County forest district's proposed 2021 budget down 18%

  • The 2021 proposed Lake County Forest Preserve District budget calls for the beach at Independence Grove Forest near Libertyville to be shut down going forward.

    The 2021 proposed Lake County Forest Preserve District budget calls for the beach at Independence Grove Forest near Libertyville to be shut down going forward. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 10/5/2020 7:43 PM

The coronavirus pandemic will continue to affect Lake County Forest Preserve District spending and revenue, but commissioners are set to proceed with a lean but balanced budget in 2021.

In a joint meeting of the forest board's finance, operations and planning committees, commissioners voted unanimously Monday to approve a tentative $65.8 million budget for 2021 -- 18% less than the current spending plan.

 

Officials say the proposed budget, which covers the calendar year beginning Jan. 1, includes sound reserves, long-term replacement funds and moderate debt. It will be up for an official vote of the full district board Oct. 13.

The biggest challenge has involved how much revenue the district will collect next year because of uncertainty regarding when and to what extent facilities can reopen, according to district administrators.

A continued hiring freeze will provide savings in 2021, although more changes may have to be made if the pandemic and closures don't ease during the first six months, officials said.

The budget decrease mainly is due to capital expenditure and debt reductions, but there have been several shifts and adjustments, including plans to close the beach going forward at Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville.

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There also are suggested additions, such as a forest preserve ranger police spot that had been previously budgeted but not filled, and a fourth full-time grounds maintenance position for the northern part of the county due to development of new facilities.

"It's a fairly aggressive budget in terms of cuts and getting the things done we've directed staff to do. There is no fat here," said Commissioner Terry Wilke, a Democrat from Round Lake Beach who heads the finance committee.

The document envisions modest revenue increases but notes property values and the property tax levy will remain virtually flat.

Executive Director Ty Kovach said revenue is down $1.7 million, with closed banquet and meeting facilities delivering a big hit.

At Independence Grove, the district's most visited site, the marina and rentals were shut down, summer concert series canceled and the beach closed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There were savings of about $1.1 million in part because of most of the 300 seasonable employees were not hired this year. The district also expects to be reimbursed $177,500 for COVID-related expenses from Lake County through the federal CARES Act.

Still, operating revenue is projected to be up more than $2.3 million, or 3%, in 2021, though it is mainly in three areas.

The property tax levy is rising only 0.9% but will generate $454,800, according to a budget summary from Kovach and Finance Director Stephen Neaman. Also, a prospective private donation will increase grants and revenues by more than $1.5 million, and a 47% increase in play at district golf courses will add $304,900.

New program requests were more than $1.6 million, but only $192,000 was approved, Neaman said.

He also noted the owner of a house valued at $250,000 paid about $154 in property taxes to the district in 2009. With the proposed 2021 budget, the district portion of the 2020 tax bill on the same house is estimated at $124, which is about $1.19 more than this year's tax bill.

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