COOK COUNTY — A group of women voters want to persuade Cook County residents to support a referendum on next week’s ballot that would support local forest reserves.
The League of Women Voters of Chicago campaigned for the referendum on protecting clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat. Referendum asks if voters will support a 0.025% increase in Cook County property taxes to support Cook County Forest Preserves and protect Cook County’s drinking water sources, air quality and wildlife .
The property tax increase would equate to about $1.66 a month, or less than $20 a year, for an average Cook County homeowner, said Deborah Halpern, co-chair of the group’s environmental action committee. It would not automatically come into force after the elections; the referendum simply asks if voters would support it.
More than 150 local organizations and businesses have endorsed support for the referendum, Halpern said.
“In essence, the Cook County Forest Preserves are analogous to the nation’s national parks. These are our local national parks,” Halpern said, adding that they make up a large portion of Cook County territory. “They haven’t asked for a property tax increase since the 1930s. This is the first time in nearly 100 years that they’ve asked for an increase.
Cook County Forest Reserve officials said on their website that the referendum “is an opportunity for voters to decide whether they want to invest in forest reserves for decades to come.”
The league held events throughout the year to mobilize support for the referendum, including monthly marches in Cook County Forest Preserves, Halpern said.
There was also a television campaign, Halpern said.
Additional funding provided by a “Yes” vote would support work to protect and restore wildlife habitats that support plants and animals native to the region, including threatened or endangered species, organizers said. It would also support efforts to clean up waterways and floodplains, as well as additional outreach programs, events and activities for local schools, Halpern said.
More money would also help expand and maintain trails and signs, make amenities more energy efficient and accessible, address the pension deficit at Cook County Forest Preserves, and meet capital needs. from the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanical Garden, organizers said.
Cook County Forest Preserve officials “want to buy more land, especially in southeast Cook County, which has the lowest acreage of greenery in Cook County,” Halpern said.
“They also need to renovate the land we have. There are so many invasive species invading Cook County Forest Preserves and they need to dispatch them and keep the land healthy,” Halpern said.
Halpern said the forest preserves need immediate attention because they help keep the city’s air and waterways clean, create jobs and “bring back species that were nearly extinct in Cook County.”
“During the pandemic, it was the only place people could go to get out into nature, be alone, and not wear a mask,” Halpern said. “As a result, everything is worn out on the trails…everything needs to be cleaned up and repaired. But it is a fabulous resource. “This referendum just has to pass.”
The election is November 8.
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