DuPage County is the only county in Illinois where its forest preserve district has its own governing body.
In an effort to save taxpayers money, State Representative (46th District) Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst is sponsoring House Bill 2479, which would eliminate the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s governing board and turn its responsibilities over to the county board after the 2016 general election.
County officials say they were blind-sided by the proposed legislation, and chairman of the legislative committee, JR McBridge, called for a special meeting.
“I just felt the legislature should’ve came and talk to us beforehand. Plus I would have liked it if he had done a study of some sort,” said McBride.
The bill reverses a law passed in 1996 by the Illinois General Assembly that permitted separate county and forest preserve boards throughout the state.
Jim Healy and Jim Zay are the only current DuPage County Board members to serve when the county board and forest preserve board were one in the same and when they were separate.
“If you had asked me ten years ago if they should be separate my answered probably would’ve been no,” said Healy. “But after seeing what has taken place over the time period, my answer is now yes. I think they should be two separate entities. I think it makes sense. I think there is an inherent conflict between the two positions.”
“The problem is the county board serves as the infrastructure and economic development part of the county while the forest preserve quite frankly preserves open land,” said McBride. “So there’s always that internal strife of what are you going to do and how are you going to do it?”
Meanwhile Deborah Conroy of Elmhurst is sponsoring a bill that would remove compensation for the forest preserve commissioners, regardless of whether they merge with the county or not.
Right now, each of the six board members make roughly $53,000, plus benefits. Both bills are attempts to save taxpayer dollars.
The bills are in the introductory stages so they’ve yet to pass through the house committees, after which they’ll need a vote in both the House and Senate. And while the future of the forest preserve is at the mercy of state lawmakers, the legislative committee plans to develop a sub-committee to look at the pros and cons of both bills and then may seek a referendum to turn the decision over to voters.
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