Forest Preserves slated to get $40M a year boost after voters overwhelmingly back property tax hike

Unofficial election results show about two-thirds of Cook County voters approved the increase by referendum Tuesday.

SHARE Forest Preserves slated to get $40M a year boost after voters overwhelmingly back property tax hike
Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve located at 15300 Pulaski Road,

Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve located at 15300 Pulaski Road.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Cook County voters overwhelmingly supported a property tax hike to help the forest preserves Tuesday.

In a referendum, voters were asked to contribute on average about $1.50 more in property taxes per month to the forest preserves, about $20 a year. About $3 to $4 of a homeowner’s current property tax already goes to the forest preserves each month.

Unofficial election results show about two-thirds of Cook County voters approved the increase..

“It’s clear that people deeply appreciate all the benefits the Forest Preserves of Cook County provide, starting with access to nature so close to home. It’s exciting to see,” Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, said in a statement the night of the vote Tuesday. “Our work begins tomorrow on enacting plans to expand ecological restoration work, add more land to the preserve system, address critical long-term needs, continue to grow our programming and public outreach and more.”

County leaders estimate the tax increase would generate just over $40 million in additional funding a year. They say the extra cash would help the county tackle ambitious goals, such as acquiring nearly 3,000 acres to protect it from development, restoring some 20,000 more acres over the next 20 years and putting more money into workers’ pensions.

The county’s forest preserves are one of the largest in the U.S., with nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas where people can hike, fish, bike, camp and even zipline. The Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden sit on forest preserve land.

County officials and more than 150 organizations that championed the increase also tout the environmental benefits of the preserves, such as absorbing rainwater during storms and creating cleaner air.

Getting the question on the ballot took years, despite advocates and some county commissioners sounding the alarm that the forest preserve district didn’t have enough resources. The district is a separate unit of government from the county — with a roughly $140 million annual budget compared to more than $8 billion at the county — and is capped by how much property tax it can collect. Yet property tax revenue is the district’s main source of income.

Toni Preckwinkle, who doubles as president of the separate forest preserve district and Cook County boards, finally overcame her resistance to the referendum last year.

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