2018 Budget

President Preckwinkle Presents 2018 Budget Recommendation for the Forest Preserves of Cook County

October 24, 2017 — Forest Preserves of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today introduced the 2018 Budget Recommendation to the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners.

The recommendation asks for total appropriation authority of $198.2 million, which includes the budgets of Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden of $68.5 million and $38 million respectively. Appropriation authority across all funds for the FPCC is $91.8 million, an increase of less than 1 percent over FY 2017.

The 2018 budget presented several immediate challenges:

  • Restoration work, a core part of the FPCC’s mission, has historically been funded with reserve funds. The district currently spends about $3.9 million per year on restoration and land management; this work will be incorporated into the district’s annual Construction and Development budget without further reliance on reserve funds.
  • Cost of living adjustments included in collective bargaining agreements and increasing health care costs represent an increase of approximately $1.6 million in 2018.

Together these factors created a $5.5 million gap in the 2018 budget. However, the Forest Preserves undertook a series of cost-reducing and revenue-generating measure to close the gap:

  • The budget proposal assumes no layoffs, but the FPCC will reduce personnel costs by eliminating 12 full-time equivalent positions from the budget for a savings of over $1 million.
  • The FPCC will freeze non-essential vacancies throughout the district to achieve additional savings.
  • Non-personnel cost reductions include $600,000 in Corporate Fund cuts to almost all operating departments, which includes reductions in funding received by many of the FPCC’s partners, including the Chicago Botanic Garden and Brookfield Zoo.
  • The Forest Preserves will be relying on increasing earned revenue and capturing inflationary revenue from the tax levy to close the remaining gap. Additional revenue-generating ideas and initiatives are being explored.

While the FPCC is continuing to cut expenses and reallocate funding, the district will maintain funding to restoration work at the same level in the previous two years — a total of $3.9 million. Funding for restoration has moved away from Reserve Funds, and will now be funded through operations.

“For the first time in FPCC history, restoration work is being funded from sustainable revenue sources as part of its annual budget recommendation,” said President Toni Preckwinkle. “This amount remains the single largest line-item in the FPCC’s budget for the sixth straight year and advances our goal to restore 30,000 acres in 25 years. This reflects the District’s commitment to conservation and preservation of native habitat, plants and animals.”

The 2018 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.

“The commitment to preserve open space is just as important today as it was a century ago when visionary leaders founded the Forest Preserves. As benefactors of what has grown into nearly 70,000 acres, we must work to ensure this legacy is well managed not only for our visitors, but also for the plant and animal species for generations to come,” President Preckwinkle said. “Guided by our NCCP goals, the 2018 Budget Recommendation helps us continue to fulfill our mission and responsibility to the land.”

In 2017, the Forest Preserves worked to further restore and protect native habitat and its species, expanded trails and opened new buildings to the public, as well as expanded educational and recreational opportunities to diverse and underserved communities.

Major restoration achievements include the dedication Harms Flatwoods as an Illinois Nature Preserve and Jens Jensen Grassland and Woodland along with Bobolink Meadow as Illinois Land and Water Reserves.

One great success in connecting underserved youth to the Forest Preserves is the partnership with the Housing Authority of Cook County, as well as the Friends of the Forest Preserves and the Forest Preserve Foundation. This summer, 50 African American youth participated in the Forest Preserves Experience Program, a paid youth employment program that provides basic job and conservation work skills and environmental education. During the five-week program, the young people, who live in Cook County housing, provided more than 1,000 hours of invasive species removal, 255 hours of tree care, 243 hours of urban gardening, 255 hours of tree care and priceless enrichment experiences and activities.

“We’ve worked hard in 2017 to attract and engage new visitors, restore our lands, and provide exceptional amenities to the residents of Cook County,” President Preckwinkle said. “It is critical that we continue to raise awareness about the benefits of the Forest Preserves and the benefits nature makes to our health, well-being and economic vitality. We have been entrusted with this treasure, and we have worked hard not just to maintain our Preserves, but to grow and improve them for this and future generations.”

While the 2018 budget holds steady what the Forest Preserves has been able to accomplish in years past, the pressures of addressing the pension deficit and rising costs will further constrain the availability of resources to support restoration, acquisition, capital improvements and other NCCP goals.

Looking beyond this next fiscal year, the FPCC is assessing ways to diversify revenue streams. In 2018, the district anticipates growing revenue from permits, campgrounds, and aquatic centers. Increased revenue will also be generated via improved collection of fines, installation of cell towers at maintenance facilities or other appropriate locations, investments earnings and new license agreements.

The 2018 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.