The Kendall County Board, acting in their dual role as county forest preserve commissioners, adopted an annual operating budget for the forest preserve district Monday evening, Nov. 30, that contains a 10 percent cut in the agency's spending for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1.
During a contentious meeting, board members voted 6-4 to reduce the district's budget by $105,000 and then, in a separate 7-3 vote, authorized the district to spend a little over $9 million for its operations during the new fiscal year.
Board members Elizabeth Flowers, Scott Gengler, Judy Gilmour and Audra Hendrix voted against the budget reduction.
David Guritz, executive director of the district, warned board members that the amended budget could lead to even more layoffs and personnel furloughs for the agency.
"It's going to be a significant impact to basic operations," Guritz said. "That's not going to go without a noticeable impact in what we can do, how we maintain these preserves and personnel."
Yet the budget also contains a 5% increase in Guritz's salary which prompted a majority of board members to support the funding cut. For weeks some board members have objected to the salary hike and questioned revenue projections for the agency.
"I think if David (Guritz) was doing the right thing he would have said he's not going to take that raise... to make sure that we come out OK next year, and to make sure his staff gets their raise appropriately," board member Amy Cesich told her colleagues.
Even though Guritz's office adjusted its revenue projections after criticism from the board, Chairman Scott Gryder proposed the cuts anyway.
"The $100,000 isn't going to be impacted right away as well," Gryder said. "It gives them a little bit of time to get things in order."
Yet the board will have the option to reverse the cuts once new board members take office later this month.
Board members who voiced support for the cuts indicated they wanted to prevent future inaction on the forest preserve's budget.
"If we pass it as is there's no reason to come back for amendments on the budget," board member Matt Kellogg said. who supported "This new number that Mr. Gryder suggested I really like because it puts a little pressure on everybody to say 'OK, let's sit down and have some more meetings. Let's have this figured out.'"
Board members who opposed the cuts commended the forest district's efforts to maintain revenues during the pandemic. While all the no-votes opposed Guritz's salary increase, many wanted to preserve wages for other employees.
"This budget's tight. We all know that," said board member Scott Gengler. "I think the forest preserve district and its employees and Mr. Guritz have done a great job overall maintaining our forest preserves so that they're a great place to stay."
Yet board members did not discuss the district's budget proposal in detail prior to Monday night's meeting. Two previous meetings where officials planned to negotiate the budget were cancelled due to lack of attendance. Since the county's new fiscal year begins Dec. 1, board members were legally bound to pass a budget Monday night, Nov. 30, without any prior discussion.
"I'm frustrated by this on several different levels," Cesich said. "By us as a board. A commission that doesn't show up to these meetings... And we've got to pass this damn budget because we're obligated to. It's frustrating as hell. I'm so mad."