A New Path for County Forest Preserves?

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The Winnebago County Forest Preserves are operated under the direction of the county board, but some members now want to let go. They want to turn the responsibilities over to an independent body, and our opinion could be a deciding factor.

Winnebago County board member Gary Jury says all the years the forest preserve has been a branch of the county, there's been no major problems, no budget deficits.

"If it isn't broke, why fix it?" says Jury.

Board member Doug Aurand argues because perhaps it could grow to be even better. Aurand says with all the county's issues, the jail, the finances, the forest preserve, would be better suited on a more independent path with its own board like park districts and schools.

"People that would traditionally run for this board, they run under non-partisan label - taking politics out, no salary or pay, taking that out. In my opinion, you'd get some pretty dedicated people," says Aurand.

And Aurand wants to know if other Winnebago County voters agree. In the resolution he'll put before board members Thursday night He proposes putting an advisory ref on the ballot in November.

"Let's let people have a say. Let's not let politicians tell us what they're going to do," says Aurand.

"We're elected to do a job. Do we ask the public every time we buy squad cars or we do this or that,” Jury counters. "If you were to separate identity, would it cost more? I don't know, so we should look into the issues first before putting it on the ballot."

The referendum is not binding. It would only gage opinion. Actually creating an independent forest preserve would mean changing the law. Aurand says this would be the first step in that direction, but jury says it’s a path he's not convinced he wants to take.

Aurand is also proposing a second advisory referendum to the board Thursday night. That one would ask voters if they support establishing casino gambling in Winnebago County.