Cook County residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising property taxes by a fraction of a percent to help fund the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Nearly 70% of voters approved an additional .025% increase in property taxes, which would bring in $40 million dollars in new revenue annually to the preserves.
Plans for the additional funds include acquiring more land, increasing programming and performing more infrastructure and restoration work.
“As the population of the county continues to grow, we need to protect more land,” said Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “We really have a mission to conserve and protect these natural lands in a natural state, so we have a lot of conservation and restoration work that we do.”
Randall said the district aims to restore 30,000 acres of land. That work involves removing invasive plant species that take over landscapes, making it challenging to foster healthy ecosystems.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County currently manages 70,000 acres of public land, including the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Randall said the Forest Preserves saw influxes of visitors during the pandemic, which was initially “tough” to manage, but they were able to adjust and mostly get back to normal operations.
“There are definitely more people coming now than ever before,” Randall said. “These new resources help us to meet those needs.”
In response to prior notions that the district was seen as a place where patronage workers were sent, Randall said over the last 12 years much work has been done to improve the organization.
“We really had to create an organization that was working, healthy and functioning in a way that can get the job done,” he said. “That meant changing people and positions, for sure.”