November 8, 2017
(CHICAGO) In an analysis released today, the Civic Federation announced its support for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s proposed FY2018 Executive Budget Recommendation budget of $198.2 million. The Executive Budget Recommendation includes both operating and capital expenditures. The full analysis is available here.
As detailed in the report, the District will fund land restoration entirely through the operating budget beginning this year, rather than using reserves. This move will provide a sustainable funding source for a major part of the Forest Preserves’ mission and help move toward achieving long-term goals of the Next Century Conservation Plan. The Forest Preserves’ moderate property tax increase is balanced out by $1.6 million in budget cuts and the aforementioned reduced use of fund balance for operating purposes, among other measures.
“In addition to employing reasonable fiscal practices, the Forest Preserves’ proposed FY2018 budget focuses on the use of innovative measures such as cell tower placements and sponsorships to generate much-needed revenue and stabilize its financial position,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “We support these measures along with reasonable fee increases necessary for the District to recover the costs of providing services in the Forest Preserves.”
While supporting the FY2018 budget, the Civic Federation has concerns about how the District will manage to pay for its long-term pension obligations, capital maintenance and backlog of deferred capital projects, while also taking on the 25-year goals of the Next Century Conservation Plan—concerns which the District admittedly shares.
The FY2018 budget does not address the District’s ongoing multi-million-dollar pension deficit. Facilities, parking lots and roadways throughout the Forest Preserves suffer from years of deferred maintenance totaling $30 million. The Conservation Plan alone is estimated to require a total investment of $2.1 billion through 2040.
“As the Forest Preserve District anticipates difficult financial decisions in the coming years, the Federation urges the District to proceed with maximum transparency, information sharing and engagement of the Board of Commissioners, the Conservation and Policy Council and the public,” said Msall.
The Federation’s recommendations include: working with the Illinois General Assembly and Cook County to implement pension reform; controlling increases in collective bargaining agreements; creating a plan to use excess reserves for long-term obligations; increasing detail in the budget book; and promoting incorporation of Forest Preserve land.