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DuPage Forest Board against merger with DuPage County

Updated: April 16, 2013 4:13PM

The DuPage Forest Preserve District Board has unanimously stated its opposition to the controversial idea of merging the district with DuPage County government.

House Bill 2479 seeks to merge the Forest Preserve District with DuPage County government and eliminate the Forest Preserve District’s commissioners. Another bill, HB 2377, would eliminate the commissioners’ salaries. The bills are currently in committee in the state House.

Forest District President D. ‘Dewey’ Pierotti said there was good reason why the Forest Preserve District split off from the county in 2002.

“It’s very difficult to serve two masters,” he said, referring to the two distinct missions of the Forest District and the county.

Many opposed to the merger maintain that, with the county often focusing on development and the Forest Preserve District primarily focused on conserving open space, an inherent conflict exists.

Pierotti was particularly concerned that the legislation would take the decision out of the hands of local residents and allow legislators far from DuPage County to dictate how the Forest Preserve District manages its affairs.

“They ( downstate legislators) wouldn’t want me to determine what happens in East St. Louis,” he said.

Pierotti went on to say that any decision to merge the two bodies should come as the result of a referendum where DuPage residents got the chance to decide the issue.

Forest Preserve District commissioners have an annual salary of $50,000, plus benefits, while Pierotti’s salary is $112,000 with benefits.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Dennis Reboletti (R-Addison) said that, while he hadn’t yet spoken to anyone at the Forest Preserve District, he thought common ground could be found between the opposing sides, even suggesting that a solution short of dissolution of the Forest Preserve District might be possible.

“I’m open to that,” he said.

Reboletti said that he hoped to talk with Pierotti this weekend, and indicated that areas of agreement might be found in the sharing of services and streamlining operations between the district and the county.

And he’s opposed to HB 2377, sponsored by Villa Park Democrat Debra Conroy.

Contacted by telephone Thursday, Conroy acknowledged the importance of letting DuPage voters decide compensation arrangements for the Forest Preserve District , saying that she had added an amendment to HB 2377 providing that any change would have to first be approved by the voters in a referendum.

“That’s my intent,” she said, speaking from the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives, “to let the voters decide.”

As for the merging of the Forest Preserve District into county government, Conroy said she was opposed to the idea and believed the two bodies needed to be separate.

Although he is open to compromise, Reboletti stressed that he was committed to eliminating waste in government, no matter what the amount.

“We’re looking for cost savings wherever we can find them and wherever it makes sense,” he said.

As for the idea of a referendum on the issue of merging the bodies, Reboletti said he would consider it, but wanted the details first.

“I would have to take a look at the exact wording,” he said.

Pierotti said he was “absolutely” willing to talk over the issue with Reboletti, saying he was scheduled to talk to him on Monday.

He also said he was happy that Conroy had added the amendment to HB 2377.

“I’m totally in agreement with (a referendum) as long as it’s fair and equitable,” he said.

Pierotti maintained that any referendum deciding such an important issue should be made during a presidential election year, which traditionally draws more voters than municipal elections. But he left no doubt that he felt the DuPage Forest Preserve District was not the place to start looking for government waste and inefficiencies.

Pierotti said that if compensation for the commissioners and the president were eliminated, the savings to the taxpayer would come to about $1.56 per year.

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