The FPDCC presented a flat budget for 2016. Most of the public testimony at the budget hearing supported the proposed budget which preserved all programs. Many public speakers described their good working relationship with the district and how current programs have benefitted their constituents. Speakers included representatives from Green Corps Chicago, University of Illinois Extension, FPDCC's Conservation Corps, Thatcher Woods Savanna Restoration Project, Growing Solutions (a program for developmentally challenged students from Al Raby High School that grows vegetables for Brookfield Zoo animals); Mujeres Latinas en Accion, El Valor, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Chicago Zoological Society (Brookfield Zoo). Several speakers gave moving testimonials on how FPDCC's programs have personally impacted them, giving them opportunities and, for some, a chance to turn their lives around. All speakers supported expansion of current programs.
Representatives of various Cook County equestrian groups objected to having to pay a fee to use the trails, which were the precursors of today's bike/walking trails and paths. Many equestrians are members of the Trail Watch volunteer program that informs FPDCC when trees have fallen across trails or block stream flow, or there are other issues needing attention. Most of the surrounding counties do not assess a trail users fee. The collected annual fees ($34 for residents/$49 for non-residents; daily fee is $4) are supposed to be used for "equestrian amenities". However, of the $80,000 in fees collected the past two years, the only identifiable amenity the four public speakers have seen is seven hitching posts. They asked to see the equestrian amenities plans.
Forest Preserve Foundation President Shelley Davis highlighted their accomplishments as described in their 2015 annual report , and strategic plan. As an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the foundation encourages and administers private gifts to further the district's mission and goals. Aligned with the Next Century Conservation Plan and the Centennial Campaign Plan, the foundation focuses on building a base of partners and supporters. Highlights included raising $168,000 at the Conservation Cup Golf Tournament, which will allow for expansion of the FPDCC's Conservation Corps program. Due to pension payment uncertainties, the financial support from the foundation will become increasingly important.
More critical of the proposed budget was Lawrence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, which submitted 57 pages of comments on the budget (unclear as to whether those comments also addressed the Cook County Board's budget.) Msall said FPDCC needs a contingency plan for funding pension obligations if pension reforms don't happen. He called for separation of the FPDCC from the Cook County Board, and stated that the current governance & budget aren't sufficiently transparent.
Also concerned about the impact of pension payments on future programs was Benjamin Cox, Exec. Dir. of Friends of the Forest Preserve. Based on his review of page 17 of the budget, pension obligations will not strain the budget in 2016, but the picture will be different in 2017. He expressed concern that the Resource Management funds which are critical to the district's core mission, will be sacrificed to the pensions.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin picked up on this theme with his similar concern, and General Superintendent Arnold Randall agreed that pension payments are the elephant in the room for the 2017 budget.
Commissioners will vote on the budget at the December 15, 2015 meeting.
In other matters. . .
- Commissioner Larry Suffredin reported on his annual survey of picnic permit users. One hundred fifty-one (151) respondents out of 400 identified the need for more recycling bins, cleaner restroom facilities, and suggested adding power to picnic shelters. Signage regarding water pump usage is also necessary.
- The new campgrounds will be open during winter for cross-country skiing.
Agenda items included the following. . .
- The proposed collective bargaining agreement, salary schedule, wage adjustments and health care plan were referred to the Labor Committee (#15-0584); a leave of absence policy for organ donors was also proposed (Item #15-0618).
- An audit of evaluating the effectiveness of internal controls over procurement card usage was referred to the Audit Committee (#15-0596).
- Proposed contracts include $200,000 for a second large truck capable of removing & transporting large logs (#15-0602); an increase in rock salt & de-icing materials (total contract amount will be $384,000; the City of Chicago and FPDCC bid jointly with the supplier; #15-0603)
- Proposed $1.12 million contract for restoration of 366 acres of the Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve (Palos area). This site is the #1 priority for restoration as identified in the 2014 Next Century Conservation Plan. (#15-0607); proposed agreement with Openlands and Army Corps of Engineers to develop a work plan to restore valuable remnant wetland communities and the surrounding watershed at Deer Grove West (#15-0620). The 500 acre Deer Grove West was FPDCC's first acquisition when it was established 100 years ago. Costs of this project will be funded via the O'Hare Modernization Mitigation Account designed to address off-site wetland impacts from the O'Hare expansion. Deer Grove West is in the top five priorities for restoration according to the Natural & Cultural Resources Master Plan.
- Proposed partnership with The Nature Conservancy to collaborate on wildfire management activities (Item #15-0621).
- Proposed 10 year license to Waste Management of Illinois, Inc. to install & operate an additional groundwater monitoring well in Beaubien Woods, across the Bishop Ford Highway, from the CID Landfill. License fees exceed $12,000 this year. (#15-0613)
- Proposed contract ($675,000) with Constellation Energy Services to supply district wide electricity (#15-0615)