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Lake County Forest Preserves Board Approves 2023 Budget

October 12, 2022 10:36 AM

In order to continue moving toward its 100-Year Vision to preserve and sustain Lake County's natural landscape and extend community outreach and education, the Lake County Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners approved the fiscal year 2023 budget at its October 11 meeting. The $68,674,017 budget represents a decrease of $17,412,834 (20.2%) from the previous year’s modified budget. The decrease is due to a reduction in capital expenditures and debt service. It covers expenditures for the period from January 1 through December 31, 2023.

"We are proud of this balanced budget, which will allow us to continue to serve more visitors than ever," said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Preserve visitation remains 30 to 40% higher than pre-COVID-19 levels. "Revenues from dog exercise area permits, Fox River Marina and golf are strong and expected to remain so in 2023.

"Many factors influenced this budget, including inflation this past year that has been running higher than it has for the last 30 years," said Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach. "Current economic data indicates that this higher rate of inflation is going to be around for a while and impact budgets for the foreseeable future."

"We continue to maintain a strong financial position with sound reserves, long-term replacement funds, moderate debt, and a AAA bond rating, an achievement shared by very few forest preserves and park districts in the nation," Kyle said.

Of the total property taxes collected in Lake County, about 2% of the average tax bill goes to support the Lake County Forest Preserves.

The 2022 tax levy, which will be billed in 2023, is estimated to be 1.4% higher than the 2021 tax levy. This is $10.7 million below the District's total levy in 2009. In that year, the Forest Preserves' portion of the tax bill on a $250,000 home was $153.89. With the 2023 budget, the Forest Preserves' portion of the tax bill on that same home is estimated to be $125.22. This is $28.68 lower than the 2009 tax bill. Comparing the 2022 tax bill to the 2021 tax bill for this same home would show an increase of $1.36.

"We approved a levy that does not maximize the available tax rate under Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL)," Kyle said. "It is important that we balance fiscal responsibility with our ability to protect more open space, restore wildlife habitat, create new trails and improve public access."

There is a heavy focus in this budget on technology and restoration efforts. Several large pieces of equipment that will increase capacity to maintain restored areas have been approved. They include a forestry mulcher, rotating grapple and an amphibious track vehicle used to mow wetlands.

In addition to that equipment, the budget also includes the purchase of an aerial drone, which will be used by multiple departments for a number of applications from public safety to natural resources and public relations.

Technology additions include Adobe eSignature software, a web chat software addition to the District's website, new and upgraded WiFi systems at several locations, moving to an Esri enterprise agreement for improved efficiencies in GIS data gathering and accuracy, and required applications for public safety to participate in the countywide consolidation of 911 dispatching and records collection.

In 2020, the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves, began planning for a fundraising campaign that aims to raise $20 million to establish a permanent endowment for habitat management and tree planting activities. Projected revenue from this permanent endowment is included in the Capital Improvement Plan, starting in 2030. "When the $20 million campaign goal is met, the endowment fund will provide stable funding to support these activities for many years into the future," Kovach said.