Property tax revenue drops in Forest Preserves
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:17AM
For the fourth year in a row, the Lake County Forest Preserves’ total property tax is projected to decrease, although the budget increased 37 percent.
The Lake County Forest Preserves Board approved a 2012-2013 budget of $114,047,000, which was a $31.2 million increase over last year’s budget. The majority of that increase, $30.2 million, is for land acquisition and capital improvements projects funded by the 2008 bond referendum that was approved by voters.
The district’s budget is balanced even though the county’s Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) has had an unprecedented drop of 12.7 percent over the past three years which has translated into a significant drop in property tax revenue. “Reductions in the county-wide EAV will continue to be a concern as the District moves forward,” said Ann Maine, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
“The District’s best course of action is to continue to control costs and carefully consider any changes to programs or staff. The ultimate goal is to maintain the fiscal and environmental health of the District,” she said.
Operating expenditures increased 3.2 percent or $900,000, mainly due to bond issuance costs, farmland management/restoration programs and Lyons Woods storm clean up. Without those expenditures the operating budget increased by .06 percent. The district made staff reductions and other cost cutting measures to maintain a balanced budget even with the drop in property tax revenues.
“This has been another challenging year for many governmental agencies and the Lake County Forest Preserves is no exception. We are proud that excellent fiscal management has put the District on firm financial footing, with all reserves meeting required levels,” Maine said. “Our conservative budgeting approach has helped to maintain our AAA bond rating, an achievement that only six forest preserves or park districts in the nation can point toward,” said Maine.
The budget includes a 2.5 percent salary increase pool, the first non-union increase since 2009-2010, and anticipates a 10 percent increase in health insurance. An accelerated retirement option, reduction in the number of district vehicles, reduction in part-time positions and travel and reorganizations have all contributed to cost savings.
The portion of property taxes collected in Lake County that go to the forest preserve are 2.5 percent. There are 29,500 acres of forest preserve land in the county with over 154 miles of trails for a variety of outdoor recreation uses. There are numerous ponds and lakes for fishing, public golf courses, historical and cultural venues, public access to the Fox River, and award-winning nature education programs and events.
Facilities of special interest include Independence Grove in Libertyville, Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Greenbelt Cultural Center in Waukegan and ThunderHawk Golf Club in Beach Park.
The budget also includes a five-year capital improvement plan that outlines 40 projects, such as trails, public access improvements and habitat restoration, to be completed in forest preserves throughout Lake County.
This year, the district’s land acquisition program took advantage of reduced land prices, thereby stretching referendum dollars further. The district added 200 acres, most of which will be “land-banked” for the next few years and land acquisitions should increase in the new budget year. Total land acquisition funds available is $13 million.
A five-year report of golf operations showed rounds were down 19 percent, from 102,365 to 79,045. Revenues were down 19 percent from $4.8 million to $3.9 million and operating income was down 73 percent from $970,00 to $266,000.
Public access improvements and renovations are underway at several forest preserves throughout the county, including Hastings Lake Forest Preserve in Lindenhurst. Additions to regional multipurpose trails are planned for the Millennium Trail in central, western and northern Lake County.
Additional information can be found at www.LCFPD.org.