Five positions to be eliminated at Winnebago Forest Preserve
The Winnebago County Forest Preserve will eliminate five management positions in an effort to cut personnel costs from the top down.
It’s part of an ongoing process to restructure district staff that started about a year ago with incentives for early retirement offered to senior employees.
Seven staffers, all in management, accepted the buyout. Five of those positions won’t be filled. The district estimates it will save $1.1 million over the next seven years because of the program.
“We’re trying to limit the number of supervision and managerial positions and try to make sure that we keep all the workers so that none of the preserves lack from service or maintenance,” said Forest Preserve District Board President Randy Olson. “Luckily, we’re doing it without laying anybody off.”
The district’s top administrator, Executive Director Tom Kalousek, will be one of the seven retirees. Kalousek will end 40 years of service in parks and preserves in the spring once a replacement is selected. However, he switches to a part-time role starting Oct. 14.
“It will be a great loss for him to retire, but he did build a good staff here,” Olson said.
The yearlong early retirement program began Nov. 1. Those who accepted the buyout will receive $33,600 from the district spread over the next five years.
“The purpose (of that sum) was to help them pay for their health insurance until they were eligible for Medicare,” Kalousek said. “If they had a spouse that had health insurance, then they are walking away with ($33,600), which is just further incentive” to take the buyout.
The position of assistant director of operations will be eliminated, and three golf course superintendent positions will be combined into one new job of golf course maintenance manager.
Two management positions to oversee geographic areas of the preserves also were combined into one role. The district will cut its golf course club house manager position and fill it with a part-time employee. They also plan to cut the part-time public safety coordinator. The Forest Preserve contracts with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department for police service.
The district is in the midst of negotiations with the Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, its only union, which represents roughly 20 employees. Those negotiations won’t be discussed publicly but could play a key role in the district’s overall restructuring plans.
“We have to be fair. Management and line workers, union and nonunion all have to participate,” Kalousek said.
The district has added 1,650 acres to its preserves since Kalousek began as executive director in 1999, bringing the total to about 9,500 acres. In the same time, it has eliminated nine full-time jobs, including the most recent five managements spots cut in the ongoing restructuring.
Other cost-saving measures have included less frequent mowing to save on gasoline and consolidation of maintenance shops, Kalousek said.
The restructuring, and the retirement of the district’s top executive, come less than a year after the Forest Preserve District board was established. It was previously an arm of the Winnebago County Board. The seven-member group was elected in November and is developing a strategic plan that will outline the future priorities of the district. The board has been hashing out the plan for more than four months now.
It’s a delicate time for a young board, which is why Kalousek, 63, will stay on hand part time after his official retirement Oct. 14.
He will be paid $80 an hour for his part-time role, meant to reflect what he would have earned with his $125,000 salary. He also will volunteer time to the district after Oct. 14. Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund rules cap pension earnings at 40 years of service, which Kalousek has put in. It allows for part-time work within the same organization so long as it’s less than 600 hours total.
Kalousek will focus on big-picture items, including work to have legislators in Springfield change a state law that caps the district’s tax rate, Olson said.
“We have not had a tax increase since 1913,” Olson said. “When you consider that, it’s a major accomplishment what the Forest Preserve has been able to do over the last 88 years.”
The board will likely begin its discussions to select Kalousek’s replacement after Jan. 1, Olson said. He said the board would use the Illinois Association of Park Districts, which also represents forest preserve and conservation districts, for the formal recruitment process.
Kalousek, who plans to help acclimate his eventual replacement, said the association was the best way to obtain a qualified candidate.