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President's Letter: A Budget for the Land

On October 17, 2013, I presented my 2014 Budget Recommendation to the Board of Commissioners of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. I’m pleased to say that this $179 million proposed budget is balanced without raising property taxes and with no fee or fine increases.

A budget is not just a collection of numbers; it is a policy document, reflecting organizational priorities. The two most significant changes to the proposed 2014 budget reflect two of our most important objectives, habitat restoration and outreach programming. In this budget, I am recommending $6 million for Landscape Restoration and related work. This is by far the largest single line item in this budget, and represents a $1 million increase over the amount budgeted in 2013. The magnitude of this investment underscores the importance of this effort to our future. Our staff has done excellent work and is a national leader in ecological restoration. Yet the scale of restoration that our lands require is so great that I anticipate continued increases for this investment in future budgets.

A second major change in this year’s budget is to outreach programming. The budget reflects that we’ve added a new department, the Department of Conservation and Experiential Programming. This department will be responsible for overseeing education (including our nature centers), outreach, recreation and special events programming. Previously, these employees were working in the General Office, the Department of Resource Management and the Department of Recreation, Volunteer Resources and Permits. While they have already been doing great things and work very closely together, I believe that putting them under one umbrella will lead to even more cohesion in our programming, education and outreach efforts and will help us advance our mission while increasing our users and advocates in the coming years.

One hundred years ago, the leaders of this county saw the wisdom of giving the great gift of the forest preserves to future generations. Today, it is again our collective responsibility to make sure this great gift endures for the next 100 years and beyond.