Forest Preserve District — Board OKs Up to $50M in Bonds for Improvements

FPbondvote24

By Nick Reiher

The Will County Forest Preserve District Board voted 16-2 at its June 13 meeting to secure the option of selling up to $50 million in bonds for land acquisition and capital projects.

Following a lengthy public hearing on June 6, the board’s Finance Committee voted 6-1 to recommend the full board approve the proposal.

The bond issue would allow the Forest Preserve District to, according to a presentation by Executive Director Ralph Schultz:

  • Dedicate $25 million to preserve 1,000-1,250 acres in perpetuity.
  • Dedicate $12 million to make critical regional and local trail connections, provide new points of access into nature and enhance their visitor centers.
  • Dedicate $13 million to restore 2,500 acres of habitat providing for clean water, clean air and increased biodiversity.

Forest Preserve officials figure with the amount of development going on, it would be good to acquire additional preserves, as well as take care of and make improvements on the 23,000 acres they have now.

Because the district has retired a total of $82,510,000 in bonds this year, Schultz said, the owner of a $300,000 home would see a drop in the year’s amount of taxes to the district from $116 to $96 if the full $50 million in bonds were sold.

Schultz explained if no bonds were sold, those same district residents would pay about $85 a year, saving an additional $11 a year.

Before the vote, Board Finance Chair Jim Richmond of Mokena said the issue isn’t how much the bond sale would raise taxes, but rather, how much it would lower the amount residents would pay toward the district: a drop from an estimated $116 a year in Schultz’s example, to $96 a year with the bond issue, or $85 a year with no bond issue.

He also said the Forest Preserve District portion of a Will County resident’s tax bill amounts to about 1.5 percent, whereas school district account for about 57 percent.

Richmond and Commissioner Katie Deane-Schlottman of Joliet said opponents should attend meetings of their local school boards to express their concerns.

“The Forest Preserve District does an amazing job,” she said. “Maybe if people better understood.”

As to Richmond’s former point, Commissioner Mark Revis of Plainfield, a staunch opponent of the bond issue, noted the district has received more than 300 emails opposing the bond issue, including some 90 of 104 read in to the record at the June 13 meeting.

“It’s pretty clear to me they want to go as low as possible with their property taxes,” he said.

Revis and Board Secretary Raquel Mitchell of Bolingbrook, the only other no vote on the bond issue, sent out a press release June 11 announcing that an independent poll of 398 Will County residents showed 95 percent were against the district selling $50 million in bonds.

Among the questions, broken down by age, gender and political party, was:

“The Will County Forest Preserve recently paid off a $150M bond. Which statement best reflects your view?

“Borrow another $150M;

“Borrow another $50M;

“Borrow zero;

“Unsure”

The survey does not give any information as to how any future borrowing would be spent. Responses were overwhelmingly supporting selling no additional bonds. District officials also don’t know where Revis came up with a total of $150 million in bonds retired.

Commissioner Julie Berkowicz of Naperville said the social media postings by Revis have damaged the Forest Preserve District’s image. She called the use of social media for the issue “not professional.

“My constituents did not hear or receive the facts (on those posts).”

Berkowicz says she uses the Forest Preserve District trails and preserves in her area often, and sees hundreds of others doing the same.

“I don’t want to see our trails deteriorate over the next few years,” added Commissioner Mica Freeman of Plainfield.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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