The DuPage County Board this week took a small but historic first step toward reducing the number of taxing bodies in the county when it unanimously approved the beginning of the process of liquidating the Fairview Fire Prevention District in an unincorporated area near Downers Grove.
“It’s just one district ... and there’s some frustration that it isn’t dramatic enough,” County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said before the vote. “But it’s a complicated issue.”
Cronin credited County Board member Grant Eckhoff (R-Wheaton) for taking the lead on the issue, saying after the vote that county research had found no other instance in Illinois where a body of government had been eliminated by the ordinance of another body of government.
Legally, the move was made possible when Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bipartisan piece of legislation that gave governing bodies with more than 900,000 residents more flexibility in their ability to consolidate or eliminate units of government within their borders.
Illinois is home to more than 7,000 units of government and DuPage County has 400 taxing bodies of its own, including 52 boards and commissions, 24 of which are taxing bodies.
Many of them were the creation of local ordinances or special service tax areas that were not easily eliminated legally, examples being the DuPage Airport Authority, the DuPage Housing Commission and numerous fire protection and mosquito abatement districts.
In addition to the legal questions surrounding consolidation or liquidation, other obstacles are legitimate concerns about citizens services, vested interests involved in various entities and the touchy matter of asking one governing body to absorb another when the body being absorbed has accumulated debt.
Such was the issue to be resolved in eliminating the Fairview Fire Protection District.
“We’ve been working on it for 18 months,” Cronin said after the meeting.
First there was the task of reaching out to the owners of 187 parcels of property that were served by the district and assure them that they would not be left without fire protection.
“That’s a lot of one-on-one,” Cronin said, “but we had to get to residents first.”
Although Fairview Fire Protection didn’t own any firefighting equipment or employ any firefighters, it did levy an annual tax to provide fire protection and contracted with the Downers Grove Fire Department to provide service to residents. It ended up with a $100,000 debt to the department.
After more than one year of negotiations, an agreement was reached whereby the Downers Grove Fire Department wrote off the debt and a special service taxing area was created allowing the affected residents to pay the village directly for fire protection.
Cronin acknowledged that the savings to the taxpayers will be small, but pointed out that the trend toward consolidation was only beginning and that DuPage was doing its part.
Cronin said that there were about a dozen other government entities in DuPage that had been studied for possible elimination or consolidation.
Although he said that the Salt Creek Sanitary District and some entities within the West Suburban Fire Alliance could be possibilities for some sort of consolidation, he hadn’t made any specific plans yet.
And he cautioned that not all acts of government consolidation would play out identically.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all,” he said.