COOK COUNTY, Ill — When Cook County residents head to the polls, they’ll see a clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat protection referendum on the ballot.
If voters vote ‘yes,’ the initiative will support restoring and acquiring land, increasing programming and providing more employment.
“Both permanent full-time jobs that don’t require a college degree but also conservation core jobs, so sort of job training programs for youth and adults,” said Benjamin Cox, Friends for the Forest Preserves‘ executive director.
A portion of the revenue would also support the Cook County Forest Preserves’ pension program, says Arnold Randall, the general superintendent of Cook County Forest Preserves.
“There’s certainly a deficit there, so it would help us fully fund our pensions which is about 20% of the total new revenues would go towards that,” Randall said.
The average Cook County homeowner pays just over $40 a year, or less than one percent of their annual property tax bill to the Forest Preserves. But if the referendum is approved, homeowners can expect an increase in property taxes.
“For a home valued at $300,000, for example, it would be about an additional $20 per year for the whole year, so $1.66 per month additional on your property tax bill,” Randall said.
“We know if the lands are restored, free of invasive species, they do a better job of cleaning our air and filtering out fine particulates, which are a major cause of asthma,” Cox added.
On beautiful days and even those that aren’t so picturesque, Fionna Bezaire enjoys exploring Thatcher Woods with her fur buddy Ollie and says she’s grateful for the quick escape from urban life.
“It’s one of the only areas where I think you can go and you can smell the dirt and you can see the leaves and you can see the bugs,” Bezaire said.
Groups who have been critical of past mismanagement of the Forest Preserve have commended the direction of the current leadership. Current leaders say the initiative will also help with capital improvements at Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanical Garden.