by Sarah Livesay, Vice President, Champaign County Forest Preserve District
Since opening its doors in 1948, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District (CCFPD) has not received a voter-approved increase in its property tax rate, attesting to its outstanding stewardship of taxpayers’ money. In the mid-1990s, the Forest Preserve’s budget for construction and maintenance projects was frozen at $200,000 and remains at about $240,000 today.
Despite the funding situation, the District has worked hard to preserve and restore public preserves for the County, oftentimes through grants and donations. To date, the Forest Preserve manages six preserves (4,000 acres in total) for the public including Lake of the Woods, Homer Lake, Sangamon River, Riverbend, Kickapoo Rail Trail, and Middle Fork River Forest Preserves.
On November 3, the District will ask voters for a boost to continue to carry out its mission. With an increase of just 1.6 cents per $100 valuation—on average $5.33 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home—the request is very small but the payoff to county residents will be tremendous. Over (20) County organizations, such as The Land Connection, Champaign County Farm Bureau and others, have formally endorsed this referendum.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District has a backlog of $3.7 million in capital needs. Funding limitations of the past have put the present in jeopardy. Included in this list is the historic Lake of the Woods’ covered bridge; Spillway repairs at Homer Lake and much-needed infrastructure work on roofs, dams and trails. The new funding would also allow the Forest Preserves to continue and expand educational programming for children and families across Champaign County.
CCFPD is seeking these funds to protect the forest preserve assets that belong to and are enjoyed by us, the residents of Champaign County. The Forest Preserve’s tax rate, one of the very lowest in the county at less than 1% of total taxes collected, has remained substantially unchanged over the last 40 years. The buildings, shelters, roads, dams, and bridges are aging, and current restoration and maintenance needs cannot be addressed on a 1980 budget.
The CCFPD has been an excellent steward of the property taxes allotted to it by the citizens of Champaign County. The CCFPD has been recognized with back-to-back excellence in auditing awards by the Government Finance Officers Association. They would not be asking for this increase if it was not absolutely necessary to sustain operations. Visit YESTOFORESTS.ORG for more information.