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Forest preserve makes quiet move on tax caps
Posted By Brandon Reid On March 23, 2012 @ 8:44 am In Happening Now, Local News | 6 Comments
• The Rock River Times exclusive: proposed tax increase keeps controversy rolling for the new forest preserve district board
By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Very quietly, Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD) has asked state Rep. Dave Winters, R-68, to sponsor a bill, “AMENDMENT TO HOUSE BILL 4752.” This legislation would empower the district to call for a referendum to allow an increase of up to 150 percent of the current tax rate, far beyond the limits set by tax caps.
Sources say the amendment was passed by the House Revenue Committee March 22 and could be voted on by the House of Representatives as early as today (Friday, March 23).
The current tax rate for the WCFPD is .0898, according to Winnebago County Assessor Thomas J. Walsh. He said Winters’ amendment would be in conflict with tax caps, which allow “increases in the rate matching the change in the Consumer Prices Index or an increase of 5 percent, whichever is less.”
Winters noted this bill affects the operating fund section of the tax rate, which is now .06, as delineated by tax caps. The WCFPD amendment asks for a .15 rate, or a 150 percent increase, to be authorized by referendum, bypassing tax cap rules.
“Tax caps are null if voters override them by referendum,” Winters said.
Winters asserted WCFPD Executive Director Tom Kalousek said all of the .15 rate would not be used immediately, and such a high rate would potentially take care of the district’s needs for 20 years if incrementally increased.
“I told Kalousek that 15 percent was too high,” he said, and acknowledged the full rate technically could be used the first year.
Winters also asserted, “the voters should have the right to decide” if they want to provide the forest preserve with more revenue. “The county forest preserve is at their .06 limit and would like to make their case to increase their rate to the public,” he said.
When asked if voters had requested this amendment, Winters replied WCFPD Board President “Randy Olson is the one pushing to get more revenue.” Winters also said he had recently refused to sponsor some legislation concerning funding for the WCFPD law enforcement requested by Olson for various reasons.
Winters also said the language of the amendment would allow the Byron Forest Preserve District (BFPD) to go to referendum for a tax increase. That district has a long history of cooperation with WCFPD, through the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and, most recently, a “going Green” presentation to the WCFPD Board about iPads. Also, both forest preserve districts have provided new campsites for the Rock River Trail Initiative.
Winters has sponsored successful legislation creating a scenic road route as part of the Rock River Trail.
Where without controversy, BFPD was really designed, in large part, for prairie restoration, WCFPD’s recent clear-cutting of large tracts of timber for prairie restoration in Sugar River, Alder, Fuller, Pecatonica River and Roland Olson forest preserves has angered many and been the hottest point of many controversies for the new board.
While most of the reported 8,500 trees were red pines, a portion where hardwoods. However, the district was only paid $2 to $4 a ton for the lumber.
The low price has been justified because of transportation costs, as noted by Winters. And yet, as a landowner in Shirland Township, he was concerned about the price paid for the hardwood portion of the clear-cut, saying, “I sold some soft maple recently for $200 a board foot.” He said it was odd humor that the lumber would be used to make coffins.
Since being separated by well-publicized legislation from the Winnebago County Board, the newly independent WCFPD Board has been beset by one controversy after another, beginning with the purchase of some property from former Winnebago County Sheriff Don Gasparini. Black Hawk Sierra Club asked the board to reconsider the purchase of Gasparini’s property. Then, it was discovered WCFPD Board member Jay Ferraro lived in East Moline, and he resigned. Recently, area hunters have avidly questioned the district’s deer-hunting policy. One of state Rep. Chuck Jefferson’s campaign brochures, paid for by the state Democratic Party, pictured WCFPD Board member Gloria Lind alongside pictures of former Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich as convicted felons. Running against Jefferson and losing to him for state representative in the Democratic primary, Lind was reported to have said to friends, “Look at what they’re doing to me.” Jefferson said his literature was factual.
Winters announced he would not seek re-election as state representative since redistricting would require him to move. For the full language of his amendment, click here .
Kalousek was not retained by the new board as executive director, but was given a generous exit package, and a search is under way to fill his position. For those guidelines, go to http://www.wcfpd.org/assets/pdf/execvacancy.pdf .
This quiet move could be seen as reflecting a negative light and effect on other taxing bodies who also need more revenue, but go about seeking an increase openly. Winters acknowledged few people knew about the WCFPD request for the amendment.
Posted March 23, 2012
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
URL to article: http://rockrivertimes.com/2012/03/23/forest-preserve-makes-quiet-move-on-tax-caps/
URLs in this post:
 click here: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09700HB4752ham001&GA=97&SessionId=84&DocTypeId=HB&LegID=64626&DocNum=4752&GAID=11&Session=
 http://www.wcfpd.org/assets/pdf/execvacancy.pdf: http://www.wcfpd.org/assets/pdf/execvacancy.pdf
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