Cook County commissioners of both parties voted unanimously in June 2021 to put a property tax increase on the ballot this November to support the Cook County Forest Preserves. With this referendum, voters are being asked to raise property taxes 0.025% to 0.076% to support 70,000 acres of woods, waters, open space, trails and campgrounds.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle has endorsed the referendum. So has local county Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) who noted in an interview that the preserves make up 11% of the county and said that the money will go to good use.

"I'm very mindful when casting a vote that could possibly mean more taxes for everyone here in Cook County. I take that very very seriously," he said. "If it passes, it will represent, per payee (on average), an additional $1.66 per month, so $19.92 per year."

The forest preserves district is a separate governmental entity from the county government, akin to how the Chicago Park District is legally distinct from the city government. The district cannot raise money through sales taxes, so they rely, as Chicago Public Schools and other governmental entities do, on property tax levies for income. The preserves need the General Assembly or a ballot referendum to raise property taxes. 

Should the referendum pass, the forest preserves district will perform deferred maintenance, restoring lands already under its control, Lowry said. WBEZ has reported that the preserves have more than $78 million in unfunded maintenance, such as replacing picnic shelters' roofs and repaving parking lots. The district's pension fund also has a yearly shortfall of $10 million. All told, the property tax increase would raise around $40 million a year.

Lowry also said 20,000 acres could be ecologically restored over the next two decades if the referendum passes alongside around 2,700 new acres of protected open land and new programming and events for the public and schools.

The preserves only have two units on the South Side: Eggers Grove by Wolf Lake at 112th Street and Avenue E and the Dan Ryan Woods at Western Avenue and 87th Street, a sliver of which is in Lowry's district. (A multimillion-dollar nature center is planned at the Dan Ryan Woods, subject to a cost-sharing agreement with the city and park district.)

Lowry acknowledged that there is not ample access to the forest preserves for the constituents in his all-Chicago district. He said he would like to see transportation opportunities for locals akin to ones that used to run to the Brookfield Zoo (which would, alongside the Chicago Botanical Garden, get a portion of the funds) reinstated if the referendum passes.

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