I was reminded last month that I have been on the board for 10 years. It was at the monthly Forest Preserve Meeting, I was honored with a plaque and a pin from the Illinois Association of Park Districts. As Forest Preserve Commissioners we are members of the Park District Association, and if you didn’t know already, all County Board Members serve as your representatives on the Forest Preserve.
When out doing election day duties I was asked about the size of our preserves and decided to share some information and give you an update on where we are as a county.
Your property tax rate continues to go down for the Forest Preserve as well as the County Tax portion of your annual bill. It is a result of the District paying off its 1999 capital appreciation bonds and holding the line on operating expenses, the 2018 estimate total property tax rate is decreasing more than 22 percent when compared to the previous year’s extension. We have a very strong balance sheet and we have a AA+ credit rating, it is the second-highest credit rating available. Going forward we will be focused on maintenance and continuing to look for efficiencies to cut spending in the operations area. We are one of only a few units of government in Illinois that has set aside funds needed for retiree benefits, something we are very proud of, but back to the bonds.
Those bonds we had were for acquiring land. When the Forest Preserve was started 92 years ago it was with 144 acres at Messenger Woods in Homer Township, we are nearly 22,000 acres today. The acreage of land preserved from development vastly grew during the 1990’s. In the 1980s we acquired about 6000 acres, but more than 15,000 acres have been acquired since the 90’s. Our residents approved a $1.3 billion for acquisition of open land in the 1990’s through a referendum. That debt is now paid. It should be noted that we have no Forest Preserves in District 4. Although Whalon Lake is located in Bolingbrook, the entrance is in Naperville or District 11. Veterans Woods is in District 3. I can only guess that by the time we got the bond approval in the 90’s that all the open land we would have been interested in was snatched up already.
Our Park District is quite large and offers a great variety of open space for us to enjoy. I am aware that the Park District got their $14 Million referendum passed on Nov. 6th. I hope that the money is spent wisely, and that the board can find ways to have those that use the special programing pay for it going forward. I noted that the tax increase was approved by a 2 to 1 margin in all areas except precinct 22 where it was narrowly defeated. I love our open spaces and the trails, but I don’t love paying for amenities that are less expensive in the private sector, like the fitness centers. The 10 years have gone by pretty quickly, I want to thank everyone for your continued support and will continue to look for ways to help lower your property tax and bring services to the community.