From a sustained spike in visitors, to an increased number of acres undergoing restoration and the creation of a climate resiliency plan, the forest preserves in Cook County are on “upward trajectory,” according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who announced this week the district’s budget for 2022 will remain largely flat compared with 2021.
The $136.6 million recommended allocation for 2022 represents a 1.8% increase over last year and includes $65.2 million for day-to-day operations and $23.4 million for Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
To address deferred maintenance and compensate for lost revenue due to the pandemic, the budget is drawing $17.1 million from the district’s reserves, Preckwinkle said Tuesday during a special meeting of the forest preserve board of commissioners.
While the recommended budget will keep the doors open and the lights on, it doesn’t make a dent in the district’s $64 million in unfunded maintenance, pension obligations or goal to acquire more land, according to Preckwinkle.
To meet those needs, the district is pinning its hopes on the passage of a property tax referendum that will come before voters in November 2022. The proposed tax increase is “one-fourth of one-tenth of 1%,” said Preckwinkle, who repeated the amount for effect.
“I’m confident this budget can serve as a bridge,” but if voters reject the tax and new financial resources don’t materialize, difficult choices will be made, she said.
The budget will be presented and open for comment during a virtual public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 21.