MCCD budget makes cuts ahead of expected revenue shortage

WOODSTOCK – Abandoned programs, scaled back capital improvement plans and shorter visitor center hours are on the table as the McHenry County Conservation District prepares for looming revenue cuts.

The McHenry County Conservation District expects to lose an estimated $2 million in property tax revenue over the next five years as declining property values lower the maximum the district is allowed to levy for its general fund.

A bill currently making its way through the state Legislature would raise that cap, allowing the McHenry County Conservation District to take the increases it's allowed under a state tax cap.

In the meantime, district staff district's Board of Trustees is set to vote on a proposed budget designed to address the coming shortfall at its meeting Thursday evening.

The proposed budget, which is for the fiscal year that started Tuesday, is based on the assumption that the district will hit its levy cap this fiscal year based on projections that the county's estimated assessed value will fall another 8 percent, meaning the district would bring in $72,000 less in property taxes.

Total revenues are estimated to fall by $315,000, or by about 3.5 percent, according to the draft budget.

While the proposed budget carries a deficit of about $420,000, it also proposes changes to employee compensation, fewer capital improvements and the elimination of programs, including the popular Trail of History event at Glacial Park.

Both visitors centers closed at 4:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. starting Tuesday, and the Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake will now be closed on Sundays, conservation district spokeswoman Wendy Kummerer said.

The Thomas Woods campground in Marengo is now only open on the weekends instead of seven days a week in order to cut back the hours of the campground host position, she said.

While district employees would receive 1-percent cost-of-living raises and would be eligible for 1-percent bonus under the proposed budget, they would also see their share of health insurance premium costs climb.

Because the proposed budget is a working document, it applies these increases to all employees, union and non-union, despite the fact that the district is still in negotiations with the police union.

Employee education and training for all departments would be cut by 45 percent and focus on public and employee safety training.

The proposed budget also cuts the number of new and replacement vehicles to four compared to seven purchased last year, and the amount spent on infrastructure improvements to $400,000 from $1.06 million.

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