Forest Preserve Budget Assumes Passage of Tax Increase
In November 2022 Cook County voters may have an opportunity to ensure that the Forest Preserves can continue to protect water and air quality and provide opportunities for children with summer jobs and scholarships and exploration places, nature education, and outdoor programs.
The proposal currently under consideration would call for an increase in the Forest Preserves property tax limiting rate. An increase of 0.03 percent above the limiting rate could generate approximately $49.7 million in new revenue in the first year and approximately $1.2 billion over 25 years. This would cost the average homeowner $20 a year. Currently, less than one percent of the property taxes levied on the average home benefits the forest preserves.
Neighboring collar county forest preserve districts have successfully passed referendums to increase and improve their sites; however, Cook County has never done so.
The forest preserve district total budget request for all funds is $136.6 million dollars, an increase of nearly two percent. The Corporate budget request, which funds the day-to-day operations of the district is $65.2 million, $3 million more than the prior fiscal year. Under Preckwinkle’s proposal $17.1 million is to be transferred from the reserve fund to offset the revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, rising expenses, deferred maintenance, an aging fleet, and available property land for acquisition.
Preckwinkle’s proposal acknowledges that the district has $64 million in unfunded maintenance needs over the next four years and an ongoing pension shortfall. Although the proposal highlights the shortfall, it does not provide any guarantee that revenue from the property tax increase would be used for the same concerns.
Earlier this year, the Cook County Farm Bureau® Board of Directors opted not to support the referendum due to numerous concerns about the use of the funds as well as existing district operations.