With real estate prices low, the Cook County Forest Preserve District is planning to snap up land on the cheap next year to add to its nearly 69,000 acres of property.
Officials have set aside more than $10 million to purchase property under a new budget recommendation released Wednesday. No property tax increases or fee hikes are included in the $195 million proposal.
“It’s not a great economy, unfortunately, but it’s a good time to buy property,” General Superintendent Arnold Randall said. “You can get more for your money during this economy. It is part of our mission to grow. Maintain what we have, and grow it.”
Forest preserve officials said they’ll be shopping for not just quantity, but quality of land. For example, patches of land that connect separate pieces of existing forest preserve property would be considered highly desirable.
Officials also are looking to add 16 full-time positions — mostly maintenance, resource management and volunteer coordinators —and dozens of seasonal workers and interns, equivalent to another 14 full-time positions.
The forest preserve is undergoing a reorganization of employees following an audit that found the district disorganized. For example, officials carved out the human resources employees who were working in the finance department and established a new human resources department.
Officials said they also expect to see a 17 percent increase in money earned from licensing, fees and recreation. Randall said the increase can be credited to better collection efforts, as well as proper management, such as at the county’s pools.
Last spring, a county inspector general's report found that employee sex, theft and underage drinking had taken place at a district aquatic center in summer 2010. The problems unfolded while Todd Stroger still led county government and the Forest Preserve District.
“We think we’ve done a better job this summer, we anticipate doing a better job next summer, of actually collecting the money,” Randall said. With a laugh, he added, “Nobody’s stealing.”