February 2, 2011
The staff and President of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County filed a FY2011 proposed budget for review by the District’s governing board on October 6, 2010, almost three months before the start of the new fiscal year on January 1, 2011. Despite the staff’s timely preparation of a budget, the Board declined to review the proposal in October. Instead, a new budget was presented more than three weeks after the start of the new fiscal year on January 26, 2011 in order to reflect the priorities of the new Board President who took office in December 2010. The date when the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners will approve a FY2011 budget has not yet been publicly announced, but is expected to be almost two months after the start of the fiscal year.
The Civic Federation regards this delay as another example of the need for a separate Forest Preserve District Board of Commissioners. The dual board of Commissioners that governs both the County and the District does not devote enough time or attention to the Forest Preserve District. Because the Board of Commissioners had not yet addressed the needs of the Cook County Forest Preserve District despite receiving a solid staff budget proposal well in advance, the Federation took the extraordinary measure of releasing its analysis of the District’s budget outside of the traditional public review process.
The Civic Federation analyzed the original $198.0 million budget proposal and supported it. The District planned to slightly decrease appropriations by 0.1% or $0.2 million, hold its property tax levy flat and maintain adequate budgetary reserves. The Civic Federation also made a number of recommendations on ways to improve the District’s financial management.
The revised FY2011 budget proposal published on January 26th is very similar to the original. The revised budget proposes Corporate Fund appropriations that are $1.5 million less than the originally proposed budget and 1.9% less than FY2010 appropriations. The $1.5 million reduction in Corporate Fund appropriations is primarily due to a smaller transfer from the Corporate Fund to the Capital Improvements Fund. Total proposed appropriations for all funds are $196.5 million which is $1.7 million or 0.9% less than FY2010 appropriations.
Budgeted positions will still increase by a net of six positions as in the original proposal, rising from 538 to 544 full-time equivalent positions. However, the revised budget will eliminate two additional administrative positions while adding an Information Technology specialist and a Compliance Administrator to oversee hiring practices and ensure compliance with the Shakman decree.
The revised budget reduces the Corporate Fund transfer to the Capital Improvement Fund from the $5.0 million originally proposed to $2.0 million while increasing the Corporate Fund transfer to the Real Estate Acquisition Fund from $3.0 million to $4.5 million. The Capital Improvement Fund will compensate for the $3.0 million reduction in Corporate Fund transfer by transferring an additional $3.0 million from its fund balance. Capital Improvement Fund expenditures are still budgeted at $13.5 million for FY2011.
The $1.5 million reduction in Corporate Fund appropriations from the original budget proposal will require $1.5 million less in transfer from the Corporate Fund fund balance for FY2011. The Forest Preserve District maintains a strong fund balance which has allowed it to refrain from raising its property tax levy or reducing services over the last three years.
The revised budget has also made a few format improvements recommended by the Civic Federation, such as including prior year revenue data in the Corporate Fund revenue table on page 40 of the budget book.
In summary, the net financial impact of the revisions to the FY2011 proposed Forest Preserve District budget was to use less of the Corporate Fund and Real Estate Acquisition Fund fund balances and more of the Capital Improvement Fund fund balance.