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Real estate downturn continues to squeeze forest preserve

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is facing declining revenues due nearly 25 percent drop taxable value Lake County property

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is facing declining revenues due to a nearly 25 percent drop in the taxable value of Lake County property since 2008. | File

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Updated: June 2, 2014 3:38PM

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is reining in spending for the sixth consecutive year as a result of a continuing slide in property values that has translated into reductions in revenue.

A $78.8 million budget approved by the Lake County Board of Commissioners in May predicts expenses will rise by less than one percent in the portion of the budget that funds day-to-day operations.

Meanwhile, total spending is expected to drop nearly 28 percent as a result of a 63 percent drop in capital expenditures, according to a press release issued by the forest preserve.

The district has seen an unprecedented drop of nearly 25 percent in the taxable value of property in Lake County since 2008. Because the taxing agency has reached the maximum tax rate approved by voters in 2002, the drop in property values caused by the real estate downturn has resulted in less revenue.

The press release pointed out that operating revenue is down $2.9 million, or 9 percent, from five years ago.

Budget-cutting measures to align spending with revenues have included a reduction in 20 employee positions, to 274.5 full-time equivalent staff. The reductions included the elimination of some positions that had not been filled for several years. The district has added a forest ranger and maintenance worker to handle increased work load from the addition of the Hastings Lake Preserve and additional trail openings.

In November of 2008, voters authorized bond issues to enable the Lake County Forest Preserve to acquire new lands. Due to the depressed real estate market, those bond proceeds have stretched farther than anticipated, according to the forest preserve. About $23.7 million of the $148 million allocated to land acquisition projects remains.

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