published: 1/26/2011 12:01 AM
Cook forest preserves commit more funds to buying land
Calling it the opportunity of a lifetime, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed setting aside $23 million this year to buy more land for forest preserves.
Preckwinkle shifted $4.5 million from operations to land acquisition to get to that total, pointing out that depressed land prices make it a buyer’s market.
“This is perhaps the last time that we will see such an opportune moment in our lifetimes,” Preckwinkle said Wednesday. “We must take advantage of this opportunity. If we don’t take advantage of it, we will answer to our children and the generations to come.”
Forest preserve staff said they could not comment on any particular parcels they’re targeting for acquisition, saying it would tip their hand in negotiations.
Preckwinkle, however, said the forest preserve district is eyeing “strategic acquisitions to fill the gaps” in the 300 miles of trails and elsewhere in the forest preserve system.
The land acquisition funds make up part of a proposed $160.2 million forest preserve district budget, down just slightly from last year’s $161 million.
Although county commissioners make up the forest preserve district’s board, the forest preserve district is separate from county government and Preckwinkle did not include it in her demand for 21 percent cutbacks this year.
For this year at least, the budget did not address proposals to cut the forest preserve police and have the Cook County sheriff’s police patrol the forest preserves. Preckwinkle said they would revisit the idea in later years. Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart have been locked in a standoff over cuts to his department.
“A lot more exploration needs to be done,” said Arnold Randall, named by Preckwinkle Wednesday as the new superintendent of the forest preserve district.
The budget also creates a post of Shakman compliance officer to address the more than 100 accusations of improper political hiring against the district in the last three years under former President Todd Stroger.
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