Conservation District Budget – Part 7 Performance Measures

Offered in support of the McHenry County Conservation District budget, which the McHenry County Board has the authority to approve or reject in toto are the following performance measures:

The (shrinking) population of the County cannot afford the operating cost structure necessary to support this 70% increase in acreage.

It should have probably stayed at its 2001 level of 14,902 acres.

The County should begin to look at divesting itself of a lot of its excess holdings in order to reduce its operating cost structure that exists today and use the proceeds to abate and/or defease the outstanding debt that currently burdens the taxpayer.

That debt service burden currently stands at $11.7 million/year.

The County should begin the process to force-rank its properties based on marketability and value.

The secondary benefit would be the longterm incremental property tax revenue that would come with any new development from the divested property.

The County should work with the local municipalities/school districts/etc. to formulate a plan regarding each targeted property and its potential effects on each community.



Conservation District Budget – Part 7 Performance Measures — 14 Comments

  1. I know this schedule was designed to show the County in a favorable light, but the first column identifies a significant problem.

    Which is that the County owns much more land on a per resident basis than any of the other counties.

    Based on population, McHenry County has only 12.7 residents to financially support each acre of land under control.

    The other counties have double to triple the number of residents to support each acre.

    Lake has 22.8 residents.
    Kane has 25.3.
    Will has 31.2.
    DuPage has 37.3.

    So while the tax burden per acre may be about the same as Kane County, Kane has twice the number of taxpayers to meet that burden.

    As indicated, this schedule omits the annual debt service which further exacerbates the tax burden on the residents.

    McHenry just does not have the population (and tax base) required to support the large quantity of land that is now owned by the County.

    Assuming the same ratio as these cohort counties, McHenry County population’s ability to absorb the costs for land management should be around 12,000 to 9,000 acres.

    Not 25,371 acres.

    Somewhere along the line, someone should have been asking where the limit was on the County’s land acquisition program.

    And what the consequences would be when you exceed that limit.

    This is how you get the 29th highest taxed county in the country.

  2. Coffey is spot on!

    How much of the land owned by the Forest Preserves is tillable?

    The County Board should vote against their budget until they eliminate the Police force and sell to the private sector all tillable land!

    The prices MCCD paid for some of the land they have purchased should place the entire Board of Trustees and the Director in jail for defrauding the taxpayers!!

  3. Coffey’s point is well taken.

    There are national standards for open space and, when taking into account all the open space provided by McHenry County cities, the amount held by the Conservation District is eight times what is needed to meet the national standard.

    Another point: The Conservation District’s total levy is almost $20 million.

    And when you compare the TOTAL levies divided by the number of families in each county, suddenly MCCD doesn’t look so good.

  4. Presuming the acreage to population rubrick as a measurement are there Federal or State mandates on a local Conservation District for minimum care and maintenance which may be overly burdening the tax base?

    The point of the question is the land itself is a neutral cost unless or until land management costs are added.

    Animals need no lawn maintenance or bathrooms so land conservation in and of itself is a zero cost save for the removal of the tax payments on the land, right?

    In other words, may we lower the Conservation District’s direct costs to align with the population rather than overall acreage or is this impossible based upon mandates and regulation?

  5. In regards to the very smart idea of different land use possibilities CV brings up:

    Is there any regulation or mandate stopping a governmental unit from renting the tillable land to a farmer, setting up hunting classes to bring in more revenue from hunting licensure, renting the land to another governmental unit to preserve watersheds…. Finding alternative revenue sources to offset the loss of tax dollars?

  6. I think the most relevant statistic would be cost-per-visitor.

    If there are sites that are heavily used and the cost is a couple of dollars, that’s money well spent.

    If there are sites that see few visitors and the cost is $20 or $50 per visitor, those sites should be sold.

    My gut feeling is that many of the sites see very few visitors and therefore the cost is very high.

    My gut feeling also is that, if asked, MCCD will say they don’t track that information.

  7. Given conservation has benefits which extend beyond simple immediate human enjoyment, visitation, would that be a proper rubrick?

    For example, open undeveloped space allows for cleaner air, water, soil rejuvenation, wildlife nurseries….

    These almost preclude human visitation to be effective.

    Would direct human interaction with natural resources be the proper measurement of efficient use of public dollars for this purpose?

    The idea of McHenry County as a natural preservation is marketable but the money for maintenance is wildly off per taxpayer.

    How do we bring the cost per taxpayer in line with national averages/best practices?

  8. Priest, are you familiar with the statement “the perfect is the enemy of the good”?

    Cost-per-visitor is a useful metric but all measures must be tempered by judgment.

  9. The point of the conversation seems to be is there a best practice or proper rubrick for measuring money spent on the Conservation District.

    Is there a “perfect” or “good”?

    In a shrinking population environ we will not need land for new construction of residential, commercial or industrial areas.

    The land use left for open land appears to be agricultural, forestry, hunting, mining or public good.

    Ag, forestry, hunting, mining and public use may be accomplished on both public and private lands.

    The two questions appear to be how to use/distribute land and what relative costs should the public be burdened with for these uses.

    Visitor information seems to be a narrow band of measurement for public good or cost benefit analysis.

    Cost per taxpayer seems closer to honest but is still subjective in the overall as comparing one bad model against another to say one is comparatively better is ultimately self defeating.

    What is an objective measurement of the “proper” load each taxpayer carries of the public good is always the conversation(with “appropriateness of the carriage as part of the overall).

    I might argue a Darwinian model of dismantle the entire idea of any DNR, Conservation District or Park Service and let private interests do as they wish but Teddy Roosevelt proved the concept of protected land being of public interest.

    The only thing left to discuss is how to measure best practices.

    Clearly subjective measurements offer themselves to “cheerleaders” as you’ve eloquently pointed out many times.

    What are the most objective measurements?

    I argued mere “visitation” isn’t enough measurement(it can be a portion).

    You argue the same.

    Now we need more information on what is mandated by all other governmental interests and the conversation may move forward to how to shrink the financial impact per taxpayer rather than making the land itself the problem.

  10. In evaluating government programs, it is best to have several objective measures of benefit.

    With regard to conservation districts, one objective standard is acres per 1,000 residents.

    This standard is endorsed by both the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the National Parks and Recreation Association.

    The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint agency of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, states “Acres of parks and protected open space per capita… is relevant when calculated at the regional, county, or municipal scale.”

    The National Parks and Recreation Association has created a hierarchy of park types, as well as a set of acreage standards for different park types. For regional parks, the standard is 5-10 acres per 1,000 people.

    The McHenry County Conservation District has 25,371 acres. The population of McHenry County is 307,000.

    That means MCCD has 82.6 acres per 1,000 residents, or 8.6 to 17 times the standard established by their own national association.

    Another objective measure is cost per visit. Knowing this figure for each park operated by MCCD would permit citizens to decide for themselves if they feel the cost is reasonable.

  11. I would also point out that between FY2007 and FY2016, MCCD’s property taxes increased from $12.7 million to $19.6 million, an increase of 54%.

    During that same period, the Consumer Price Index increased 15%.

  12. The Conservation District bond referendums were passed with the same concept as the Woodstock North referendum, that is, EAV will increase, so cost per taxpayer will be reasonable.

    That didn’t pan out.

    Too bad, too sad taxpayer.

    The board members who promoted the narrative are not on the hook for a dime, personally, over and above any other taxpayer.

    Buyer beware.

  13. Re: “Ag, forestry, hunting, mining and public use may be accomplished on both public and private lands.”

    Relative to public lands:

    Ask the Bundy family about this.

    Ask ranchers in Oregon about this.

    Ask people in some areas of Colorado about this.

    I firmly hold the opinion that the MCCD should NOT be permitted to own tillable land.

    If for no other reason than MCCD grossly inflates the purchase price of tillable land with their outlandish payment amounts for such.

    It pays to remember who was one of the main characters involved in the growth of the MCCD and the “off the public record” initial creation of Hackmatack. He now works for Metra and was part of a recent unanimous vote to increase the salary of the Metra CEO to $317,500 – a $28,000 increase.

    Ken Koehler who ran as a Republican!

  14. I do love this particular comment section.

    When the tin foil hats and wackos can be cleared the MOST intelligent discussion reigns.

    Steve, your contributions are universally wonderful and, among Mark, Susan, CV, connect and so many others, add to every discussion.

    Brilliantly done.

    Hope your group is expanding Steve.

    Stop the cheerleaders, wackos, self enrichers(Ken K) and help The People regain their rightful control over their government.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all our precious mothers.

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