Despite the amount of acreage protected and maintained by the McHenry County Conservation District growing substantially over the past six years, the number of district employees has stayed about the same.
That disparity looks set to continue as the district's board held a hearing on a proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which starts May 1.
The proposed budget includes $28.4 million of total expenditures through its six funds, a decrease of 8.4 percent from last year. Of that total, $12 million is debt service and $9.4 million is the general fund, from which the district pays most of its operating expenses.
Because the board decided against raising the levy in December, the budget is based off similar revenue numbers from the previous year.
The budget overview, which is available on the district's website, called the move not to increase the levy "courageous," outlining the growing disparity between employees and acreage.
The amount of acreage maintained by the district is in large part the result of the voter-approved issuance of $73 million in general obligation bonds in July 2007.
"[The referendum] placed the district in the precarious situation of entering into an accelerated period of growth as the national economy entered into a severe and sustained recession," the budget overview said.
Although the overview highlighted the concern in the first few paragraphs, it did not propose any solutions.
District spokeswoman Wendy Kummerer didn't return requests for an interview, and board policy requires interviews with trustees to be funneled through the communications office.
The vast majority of the bond revenue, $62.5 million, was designated for land acquisition by the board. The remainder went to natural restoration projects and site and trail development and improvement. All of the bond principal has been spent.
This coming fiscal year, an additional $1.2 million – from the interest earned off the bond principal – is allocated for land acquisition and about $1 million on Americans with Disabilities Act improvements
In 2007, the district maintained 20,701 acres; last year, that number was 25,023, an increase of nearly 21 percent.
Over the same period, the number of full-time equivalents has increased to 90.3 from 88.7, an increase of 1.8 percent. The district has 79 full-time, three part-time and about 30 seasonal employees.
This coming fiscal year, overall staffing levels are set to remain the same, excluding the elimination of a part-time internship in the Natural Resource Management Department.
Under the proposed budget, current employees would see a cost-of-living increase of 2 percent. Contracts between the district and its two bargaining groups have yet to be finalized.
Some employees also will see an increase due to the implementation of a new pay scale, which was put together after a review of all district positions compared with other similar internal and external positions.
This change amounts to a 1.6 percent annual increase in wages, according to the budget overview.
Personnel costs, including wages and benefits, made up 71 percent of the district's operating expenses this fiscal year. Despite expecting a 2.5 percent increase in these costs, its share of the budget is expected to decrease to 70 percent of the budget.
For more information
The proposed budget overview as well as previous budgets can be found at the McHenry County Conservation District's website, mccdistrict.org, under the Freedom of Information tab.
Other highlights from the budget
• The replacement of six existing vehicles and the purchase of two additional work trucks,
• The replacement of bathroom stalls at Fel-Pro RRR Conservation Area, 1520 Crystal Lake Road, Cary.
• The addition of steel roofs for the shelters at Hickory Grove Highlands Conservation Area, 500 Hickory Nut Grove Lane, Cary, and Stickney Run Conservation Area, 3716 State Park Road, McHenry.
• Improvements of Prairie Trail South, including a ramp along La Fox Road. This is a project that was budgeted for and started last year.
• The construction of a trail that will connect West Lakeshore Drive to Lake Avenue in Woodstock.
• Resurfacing parking lots at various facilities, including the Brookdale administrative offices and the Harts Road lot at Glacial Park.