Home News Will County Forest Preserve Board considers $50 million bond sale

Will County Forest Preserve Board considers $50 million bond sale

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The Will County Forest Preserve District Board will vote next week on a proposal to issue up to $50 million in bonds to preserve land, increase trails, improve forest preserve access, restore habitats and improve facilities.

Because the district is retiring bonds, the impact of the forest district’s line item for a Will County taxpayer is expected to decrease.

Forest district officials said the owner of a $300,000 home currently pays $116 to the forest preserve district. If the bond issue is approved, the same homeowner would pay $95. If the bond issue is rejected, the homeowner would pay $86, district officials said.

“In 2024, we will retire a significant amount of debt, and so that portion of the levy will be reduced by about 60%,” Executive Director Ralph Schultz said. “At times like this in the past, the board has chosen to fund a continuation of the (capital improvement program) but still give property tax owners a tax break.”

Under the $50 million five-year program, the district would use about $25 million to preserve between 1,000 and 1,250 acres of land; $13 million for trail access improvements and facility improvements; and $12 million for habitat reconstruction and natural area restoration, Schultz said.

The forest district board conducted a public hearing Thursday before recommending the plan to be sent for a vote at 9 a.m., June 13 at the Will County office complex, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

Schultz and Deputy Director Tracy Chapman spent more than an hour of the public hearing reading about 200 emails from residents, the majority of them opposing the bond issue.

Residents said that property taxes are too high, the district should operate within its current budget and senior citizens who live on fixed incomes were being taxed out of their homes. Opponents also said the project was non-essential, unimportant and too few people use the forest preserve district.

About 15% of the emails were from residents who supported the plan, saying preserving green space is important to future generations, residents reap the mental and physical health benefits from being among nature and the forest district makes Will County a desirable place to live, work and play. Supportive emails noted the taxes would go down under the districts $50 million capital improvement program because of the retiring debt.

Board member Mark Revis, a Republican from Plainfield, said he took credit for the emails from residents who were opposed.

“Property taxes are absolutely out of control,” said Revis. “They are sick of things that add burden to their property tax bills.”

Revis said property taxes could be going down further if the bonds were not sold. He said selling bonds is optional and does not affect the services the forest district provides. Residents have other ways to get outdoor recreation, he said.

Several other board members said they thought Revis was misconstruing the information to residents.

“I just wish you could stop lying, causing fear, dysfunction (and) division online and having people write in saying ‘I don’t want my taxes going up,’ when literally they are going down,” said board member Natalie Coleman, a Democrat from Plainfield.

Republican board member Julie Berkowicz, of Naperville, said land the forest preserve district would buy prevents it from becoming a residential home development that would put a burden on municipalities, roads, police, first responders and school districts, leading to higher taxes.

“If this bond passes, I’m going to appreciate the fact we will have a higher quality of living because our forest preserve has done an incredible job,” Berkowicz said.

Board member Dan Butler, a Republican from Frankfort, said the forest preserve district benefits residents countywide.

“Very few times we have the opportunity to provide a service for our public that actually provides to so much of our public,” he said. “I don’t want to be made to feel that I’m not a fiscal conservative because I am going to support this bond. I think it’s a wise expenditure.”

Member Jim Richmond, a Republican from Mokena, said the forest preserve district makes up about 1.46% of the property tax bill, and the other taxing bodies are responsible for much of the tax increases residents have complained about.

“The other 98.5% did a lot of damage,” Richmond said.

The forest district has several projects within its capital improvement program, including adding connections with the DuPage River Trail with Naperville, Bolingbrook and the district’s Whalon Lake and Hidden Lakes and Hidden Oaks preserves. The district plans to partner with multiple municipalities and park districts on trail connections including Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and New Lenox.

The district would also improve Plum Creek Nature Center in Beecher, which was last renovated in 2002.

Some of the areas targeted for habitat reconstruction or natural restoration include 250 acres of the Riverview Farmstead in Naperville, 250 acres of the Jackson Creek Preserve in Green Garden Township and 200 acres of the Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve and 550 acres of Plum Valley Ravines in Crete Township.

No new staff will be hired as part of the program, Schultz said.

Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.



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