Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Today I attended the Environment and Energy Conservation Committee (EECC) meeting at the District. This is a staff task force that is working toward reducing energy consumption and other conservation practices. Whether it is as simple as shutting down automatically computers that are not being used or high tech energy saving devices, many of these ideas will save the District money and also help provide a cleaner environment.

In the next month, we are expecting the results of an energy audit that should provide us with several more money saving ideas. In the last few years there has been several advances that can readily be implimented. These savings are just part of our plan to extend our balanced budget even further into the future, because energy savings occur year after year. Some of the ideas have the added benefit of more efficient use of labor, so we can save some extra money or accomplish more with the money we are already spending.

Add to this the commitment of the District to have a completely green fleet of vehicles and we are pretty much on the cutting edge . We still are the only agency to make that commitment that I know of. Again, this not only saves us money, but provides for cleaner air.

I was not a passive participant. I provided information on several technology advancments that might provide savings, such as the Solatube that provides sunlight to interior rooms. I provided information for grant opportunities for updating lighting throughout the District. Finally, I brought up some other initiatives around the country that we should monitor for ideas and perhaps, participation.

I look forward to the positive results we will enjoy from the work of the EECC.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Trail Talk is a Handy Guide

I just received a copy of 'Trail Talk'. It is a quick reference guide about the District. In it you will find a phone directory for our various facilities. There is a copy of our Vision, our Mission, and our Guiding Principles. There are sections on Volunteering, Taxes, Urban Services Provided, Miscellaneous Statistics, Natural Resources, and other available facilities.

For the last couple of years, the District has promoted a campaign of 'DuPage Forest Preserves: Right At Your Feet'. With 'Trail Talk' the Preserves are right at your fingertips.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Summer of Fun

If you don't now, you should subscribe to 'The DuPage Conservationist'. It is the quarterly paper put out by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. It provides lots of info about conservation, but I wanted to point out that it also provides all the information you would need about our programs and a 'Summer of Fun'.

A few highlights...

Kline Creek Farm Programs- learn about farming in the 1890's. The farm is open Thursdays - Mondays with programs including gardening, children's chores, children's stories, and many other aspects of DuPage life 120 years ago.

First Folio Shakespeare Festival at Mayslake Peabody Estate. Enjoy the Bard's story of Prospero and his daughter Miranda in the 'Tempest' from June 21-July 30. This is on stage in the world's largest theater. Ok, you are outside under the moon and the stars (hopefully you can see them:).

Enjoy any number of nature walks.

Learn to fish programs. If you are 16 or older you must posess a valid Illinois fishing license.

Learn to Kayak. A basic program to see if you might like this sport.

Get a little dirty- We have several nature workdays and restoration workdays in the great out of doors.

The Bug Bash at Fullersburg- Take the Ug out of Bug!

And of course, you can hike, bike, picnic, birdwatch, fish, canoe, geocache, etc.
without going to a program and have fun on your own.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Madame Governor?

It will be interesting to see how much the 'What's she thinking?' ads will affect the upcoming Governor's race in Illinois. My guess is not that much, especially once Judy Baar Topinka starts with her own campaign ads on TV. Anyone that is paying attention will recognize this is just mud slinging, without very much substance. Once she starts showing a few of the current numbers, a lot of people will think twice about a second term for Rod Blagojevich. If I were a teacher, I would be very concerned with my retirement. (Actually, I do have a few shekels in the Teacher's Retirement Fund. I was a substitute teacher for a little while.)

Ultimately, Judy will have to show her vision for guiding Illinois. Unless Rod has something up his sleeve, I believe Judy will be right where she wants to be, and the real question will be who will get their base out to vote.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Summer trips

Today I took my daughters and two of my nieces to the James 'Pate' Phillip State Park. First we watched the movie in the nature center. Then we hiked down to the marsh to look at the heron nests. My nieces had never seen a great blue heron, so seeing the colts (heron babies) on a nest was something special. With binoculars, it was almost like we were in the nest.

A week ago, I took my daughters to McDowell Grove. While we were watching a great egret hunting, a northern water snake swam right up to us on the shoreline. To be honest, I had to research what kind of snake it was. Now I have another herp on my list. Northern water snakes are not poisonous, but their saliva has an anti-coagulant in it. So it is a good idea to avoid getting bit because it is hard to stop the bleeding.

My kids love these little trips. Fact is, I am a little kid when it comes to nature, so it is a joy to do it. Plus, the cost of these trips was the cost of the gas to get there. If you are looking for something fun to do this summer, come to one of the Forest Preserves in DuPage County and take the time to look around. The price is right and a whole new world will open up before you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Finding $

Last fall, the District's Director in charge of all things legislative, grant, sponsorship, etc. had the good fortune of an early retirement. Good for him, not so much for the District. John Schmitt was a unique individual that (in my opinion) allowed the District to hire one individual instead of three. A crude understanding of his job was to get the District money. And he did! Thank you John. The District still has the need to find money, as yesterday's post had noted.

I believe that the District needs to take a comprehensive approach to funding our needs. Tax dollars will not cover it. So I have suggested we have a survey of our assets by a company that audits them, with the thought of setting a value for sponsorships. I believe that we are underselling what sponsorships we do have by not leveraging the entire District when we approach a company for a sponsorship of a single event. Even so, we leave money on the table because we usually sell the sponsorship at what it costs us for something, rather than the value of it to the sponsor. That is like a retailer buying a widget for $1.00 and selling it for $1.00.

Taking a comprehensive approach will also prevent us from undermining ourselves, because Willowbrook was asking for something just after Mayslake asked for something. If we better coordinate our requests, then we should have better results. So I will also request we centralize those efforts.

Quick thoughts on other revenue sources. We should work on appropriate partnerships. This helps obtain grants, maximize their value, allows for shared costs, and much more. We should explore vendor relationships that can improve services by the District, often without significant financial outlay. We would also receive revenue. Improve the layout for our gift shops and add them where appropriate. Become donation friendly so we can encourage gifts, memorials, and planned giving. Adjust our licensing and easement fees to actually cover all of our current costs beyond the land value. Update the value of trees in those areas. Establish some sort of membership program for the average Joe on the street to participate if he would care to.

I do not expect that these and other things will solve all of our money issues. I think that these will allow us to improve the quality of our preserves while helping to keep down taxes.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Need for Alternate Revenues

Two months ago I wrote about the District's need to find alternative revenues. The issue came up at Commission, as we were discussing our budget for the upcoming year. It made the paper, but the future is not as dreary as the article title implied ('Forest district deficit looms in five years' Daily Herald 6/7/06). Since I had several people ask me about this article, I thought I would take some time to write a bit about it.

First of all, how many other municipalities have a plan in place to insure a balanced budget five years into the future? None that I know of. Our plan has very conservative assumptions. That is, we assume a constant level of services without counting all of our current revenue streams. On a practical level, as we get closer to the time when our expenses exceed the interest from the landfill funds, we can reduce expenses by delaying some capital improvements, lengthening maintenance schedules, utilizing volunteer services, etc. The financial plan also does not consider staff efficiencies gained from a website that automates registrations and more. It does not consider gas to energy royalties past the current year. It does not recognize revenues already accrued for wetland mitigation. Finally, it does not take into consideration any efforts by the District to raise funds by securing other revenues, grants, donations, and sponsorships. Which is why this topic came up, when President Pierotti appointed a committee to look at alternate revenues. I am convinced that we can roll back the day of reckoning significantly.

As I said before, there will come a day when we might need to ask the public for an increase in the tax rate levy. That is because the tax cap in Illinois does not allow the District to increase its rate equal to the rise in expenses for a fast growing community. Add to that the fact that the operating budget from which the inflation rate is calculated is from the early 90's, which was for several thousand acres less land, miles less of trails, and fewer facilities overall. But the request should come after we have put our house in order and do what we can to find additional funds.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

More on Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles

Hanging on my office wall is a copy of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's mission, vision, and guiding principles. When I sit at my desk, I pretty much have to look at it. That is fine, because it serves as a constant reminder of what a Commissioner is suppose to do.

The District continues to pursue partnership opportunities. We recently approved a deal with the Village of Carol Stream. We had planned an extention of the West Branch Regional Trail to connect the West Branch Forest Preserve with the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve. Because of some fence requirements, some floodway construction and County permitting constraints, this trail segment would cost $1.5 million. Staff was strongly suggesting we pursue trail construction at an alternate location.

The Village of Carol Stream was planning some road improvements for Fair Oaks Road that runs on the east side of the West Branch Forest Preserve. Their plan was to build a sidewalk/trail along the road. Their problem, in order to complete the storm water ditches for the road, they required 0.3 acres of land from the District. The win/win solution was to connect the regional trail to the road improvements. The Village would spend the money that it was already planning to spend, while now having all of the stormwater needs fulfilled. The Village would build the trail, with the Distict paying for materials of a certain portion of the trail not in the original plans, some engineering and permitting costs for additional trail, and absorbing the cost of conveying the 0.3 acres to the Village. The estimated cost to the District of this was approximately $230,000. That seems like quite a bargain, to spend only 15% as much money, while using less than 10% of the land. An additional plus was that the land now being used was basically already developed land. The earlier route would have been through natural areas. With the money saved, we can still provide some access to the natural area that will be less intrusive to the plant and wildlife. And still have some money left over.

When I think about this, I realize that several of our other guiding principles were used in making this deal. We also expressed leadership, stewardship and management.