2017 Budget

President Preckwinkle Presents 2017 Budget Recommendation for the Forest Preserves of Cook County

October 25, 2016 — Forest Preserves of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today introduced the 2017 Budget Recommendation to the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners.

The recommendation asks for total appropriation authority of $192 million—an approximate $2.2 million increase over last year, which comprises the projected increase in revenue from the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden. The Forest Preserves’ day-to-day operating budget remains consistent with last year, including the funding levels for the Zoo and Garden which will continue at the current levels of $14.9 million and $9.3 million respectively.

The 2017 budget avoids service reductions and layoffs and does not rely on Reserve Funds to pay for day-to-day operational expenses.

Reserve Funds will however be put to use for restoration efforts in the amount of $3.9 million.

“This amount remains the single largest line-item in the FPCC’s budget and advances our goal to restore 30,000 acres in 25 years,” said President Toni Preckwinkle. “In 2017, the FPCC will continue its critical work to restore the preserves to ecological health. Restoration work remains the single largest line item in the FPCC budget for the fifth straight year, which reflects the District’s commitment to conservation and preservation of native habitat, plants and animals.”

The 2017 Corporate Fund, or operating budget, is balanced at $55.7 million and supports the day-to-day activities of 11 departments and district-wide expenses.

The 2017 budget also operationalizes specific goals outlined in the FPCC’s Next Century Conservation Plan, which was formally adopted in 2015 and provides the following goals:

  • Restoring ecological health and protecting the diversity of plants and animals that depend on the preserves.
  • Providing well-maintained buildings, trails and other facilities, and making them accessible to all county residents.
  • Increasing outreach to underserved communities and expanding educational and recreational opportunities for all residents.
  • Managing with excellence, transparency, and sound financial practice.

“Residents of Cook County are the benefactors of what has grown to become nearly 70,000 acres of managed open space. The Forest Preserves are crucial to our quality of life and the survival of plant and animal species dwelling in the native habitats of the Preserves,” President Preckwinkle said. “Guided by our NCCP goals, the 2017 Budget Recommendation helps us continue to fulfill our mission and responsibility to the land with which we’ve been entrusted by visionary leaders more than a century ago.”

In recent years, the Forest Preserves has invested in numerous new amenities and recreational opportunities to better connect with and engage Cook County residents and visitors, such as adding an accessible entryway at the Forest Preserves’ headquarters in River Forest, improving the trails system and investing in initiatives to bolster volunteerism.

“These efforts have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and volunteers and helped the residents of Cook County make lasting connections with nature,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “In 2017, the FPCC must build upon this momentum while simultaneously addressing financial challenges.”

In the coming year, the FPCC is faced with fiscal challenges which include significant increases in salaries and wages and a sharp decrease in the amount it receives from the state Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT).

The main increase to the Forest Preserves expenses are due to the cost-of-living adjustments included in collective bargaining agreements which amount to $1.6 million. The FPCC is also faced with a $988,000 dollar loss in declining PPRT. These factors created a total $2.6 million budget gap for 2017. In order to bridge this gap, President Preckwinkle proposed proactive measures, which avoid layoffs and maintain programs and services, including:

  • 12% reduction in non-personnel expenses
  • Capturing increased revenue from the tax levy
  • Capturing increased revenue from TIF funds; and
  • Increasing non-tax revenues

“The Forest Preserves is implementing a number of significant cost reduction initiatives including right-sizing its fleet, eliminating certain phone landlines, outsourcing operation of the aquatic centers, and reducing print advertising and promotions,” President Preckwinkle said.  “Together, these efforts reflect a 12% reduction in non-personnel expenditures which will result in a savings of approximately $1.2 million. Cost reduction initiatives were designed to maintain the delivery of top quality programs, maintenance and other services to the public.”

Revenue generating initiatives include securing new philanthropy and corporate sponsorships, expanding concessions and selling carbon offsets. Additionally, the FPCC has expanded concession operations and fee-based programs to generate more revenue, including a new treetop adventure course and zip lines at Bemis Woods in Western Springs, which has already welcomed nearly 8,000 users. Non-tax revenues from concessions and licensing are expected to grow by approximately $528,000 in 2017.

Looking beyond this next fiscal year, the FPCC is assessing ways to diversify revenue streams. An analysis of the Forest Preserves’ current permits, rentals and concessions program is being finalized in order to determine if the current subsidies or costs to the Forest Preserves for private events are bringing in the best return on investment. Initial results identified the Forest Preserves is recovering less than half — only 48 percent — of costs related to the private activities taking place on Forest Preserves property.

As a result of the analysis, a new item for consideration at Tuesday’s Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners meeting includes an updated fee schedule based on a cost recovery model, which would help the Forest Preserves recoup a larger share of the costs it incurs to support private events. Some examples of these costs include site preparation, cleanup and security, as well as the costs of damages to property after large-scale events.

Changes to the Forest Preserves permits, rentals and concessions fee schedule include peak and off-peak pricing; new categories based on attendance levels; a 10 percent premium for non-residents; fees in relation to certain amenities such as portable toilet rentals; updated application fees; and various adjustments to concessions pricing such as golf, camping, zipline and treetop adventure course, boating and equestrian activities.

Non-profit organizations will continue to receive a 50 percent discount on base permit charges with proper documentation.

Additional funds based on this new model are expected to generate up to $300,000. Assuming expenditures do not exceed revenue in the coming years, additional revenue received from these increased user fees will lower the amount needed to be transferred from reserves for landscape restoration.

“These recommendations establish a rational basis for fee setting and public funding that will lead to greater long-term financial sustainability,” President Preckwinkle said. “Taxpayer money should be spent on restoring and maintaining areas which have the most use by the public. Support for private events with exclusive use should be supported by the users or hosts of those events.”

The 2017 budget proposal is designed to present a responsible balance between the ambitious NCCP goals and current and future budget constraints. The FPCC will continue to explore models to increase, leverage, and/or redirect resources to advance NCCP goals and fulfill its mission to protect and restore the Forest Preserves for the benefit of all Cook County residents.