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Forum puts government consolidation in the spotlight

<p>DuPage County Board Chairman <a id=Dan Cronin  |  Seth Perlman/AP

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DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin  |  Seth Perlman/AP

Getting rid of some layers of government in Illinois was the topic of a forum in Lisle this week that drew participants from around the area.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said that the trend toward consolidating units of government is picking up steam.

“Would you design a system this way,” Cronin said about the number of government units in Illinois during the event at National-Louis University in Lisle.

Cronin was referring to the almost 7,000 units of government in Illinois, of which about 400 are in DuPage County.

Consolidating or even eliminating some of those taxing bodies was the main topic Cronin debated with Robert Porter of the law firm Ancel Glink; freshman Illinois House Rep. Chris Welch (D-Westchester); and Brian Costin, director of Government Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Cronin said he supported legislation in Springfield that, when signed by Gov. Quinn, gave DuPage County legal authority to dissolve units of government if it is in the best interest of taxpayers.

‘Not easy’

To date, the move toward consolidation has only seen the dissolution of the Timberlake Estates Sanitary District and the Fairview Fire Protection District in unincorporated Downers Grove. Cronin acknowledged the challenges of consolidation.

“Consolidation is not easy,” he said. “It’s really hard, tedious work.”

Porter was not ready to oppose all efforts at consolidating government or services, but defended the right of local communities to decide what type of government was best.

“These units of government didn’t grow because they popped out of the ground like mushrooms,” he said, stressing that they were decisions made by local citizens, often the result of referendums.

Porter, whose background includes service as director of the Lemont Park District and supervisor of Lemont Township, stressed that before any unit of government was eliminated, there was a need for an open dialogue, an in-depth study, and safeguards against misdirecting any cost savings.

Porter said that a connection to local citizens is key, and defended the financial record of local entities.

“At at the local level they (citizens) can find you,” he said. “And local governments don’t have a pension problem.”

Welch’s background is in local government, previously serving as president of the Proviso Township High School Board of Education. His experience has led him to believe that consolidation can be beneficial.

Welch said there are too many school districts in Illinois, as well as other governmental bodies, and has himself introduced legislation that would allow local voters to merge River Forest Township with the Village of River Forest.

“I believe that in some cases government can be streamlined … it’s an issue their residents should decide,” he said.

For Costin, the need for consolidation in Illinois is highlighted by the fact that 40 other states have only two levels of government ruling over the citizen.

He cited the difficulty in monitoring so many levels of government and attributed some of the blame for Illinois having the second highest property taxes in the nation to its excessive number of taxing bodies.

“The public should have a say,” Costin said.

When Doubek asked what consolidation Porter would support, he said it was something that each community had to decide is a local dialogue.

“Citizen discussion is the key,” he said.

With Democrats, including candidate for county clerk Jean Kaczmarek, calling for returning the county’s election duties to the County Clerk’s office and eliminating the cost of the DuPage Election Commission, Doubek asked Cronin why the commission wasn’t on his list for consolidation.

Cronin said that reforms of the Election Commission had already resulted in savings of about $2 million and that more reforms were being studied.

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