October 14th, 2020
Chicago Tribune | New law allows DuPage to shrink government
Rae Ann McNeilly, Executive Director of Taxpayers United for America, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune on legislation allowing DuPage County to consolidate government.
Too many, according to advocates of streamlined government, who celebrated Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature Friday on legislation that will allow DuPage County to consolidate or eliminate some government entities like the Century Hill Street Lighting District.
“This is the best medicine to take on bureaucracy and excessive, wasteful duplicative government that we’ve had in a long, long time,” Quinn said.
Under the new law, the county will be able to dissolve non-elected government agencies deemed outdated or inefficient following a full analysis and public review process.
And in the case of the unincorporated subdivision just outside Naperville, one of the trustees on the Century Hill Street Lighting District wouldn’t mind being out of a job.
“As a board, we’re entirely welcome to this,” said Tom Cieslak, 70, who has been volunteering as an unpaid trustee since the 1980s. “What happens if I get a heart attack tomorrow and I’m one of two people that know the job?”
The district, which includes about 300 homes, levies about $15,000 in property taxes to service approximately 77 streetlights. Cieslak said that managing the district has grown increasingly burdensome.
“It’s very difficult to maintain a district this small to ensure quality and to keep up with the changing levels of law in terms of ethics rules and Freedom of Information rules,” he said. “There’s more and more training that’s being put on us. There’s very little support in the community.”
In addition to the Century Hill Street Lighting District, about a dozen other entities could be on the chopping block under the new law, including fire protection, sanitary and mosquito abatement districts.
“Frequently we find there’s another unit of government that could do the same thing,” said DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, who had pushed for the legislation. “Why don’t we just figure out who is going to be the odd man out?”
The narrowly written law currently applies only to DuPage County, which has more than 400 taxing bodies. State officials say they hope DuPage will serve as a model for other counties.
“I believe this has changed the conversation in Springfield, and I think it’s the first step and you’re going to see a lot more of this going on in the entire state,” said Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, one of the sponsors of the new law.
Rae Ann McNeilly, executive director of Taxpayers United of America, said she supports the concept of shrinking government, but questions the “top-down method” being employed in DuPage.
“You have county bureaucrats telling the local bureaucrats what they need and don’t need,” she said. “But at first blush, any time we can shrink government, it’s a good thing as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the governed. They should have the say in what occurs — it’s their tax dollars.”
Cronin said his office will analyze each entity individually to determine whether there is the potential to save money and come up with a plan for how those services would still be provided. Residents would be able to weigh in during public hearings and could put together a referendum to fight a proposed dissolution.
Cronin acknowledged consolidation could mean the loss of jobs for some.
“This is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows,” he said. “This is about realizing tangible, measurable cost savings, and as anybody knows in operation of government, personnel is the No. 1 cost.”
Amy Kovacevic, 38, a trustee on the Downers Grove Sanitary District — a position that pays $6,000 a year — said she believes her agency is run efficiently, but believes the county could consolidate other nonessential or outdated governmental bodies.
“As a state, as a county, there are probably ways we can trim,” she said. “Many people are working paycheck to paycheck to pay their bills … and we owe it to the taxpayers.”
Ronald G. Berquist, 83, has served on the Glenbard Fire Protection District board for the past 12 years and has seen the district slowly shrink as the village of Lombard annexes homes and businesses.
Currently, the district levies taxes from about 700 homes and businesses in the unincorporated area near Lombard.
“It’s a paper district,” Berquist said. “We only levy the taxes and we contract our fire and EMS services from Lombard. So a point could be made that there is no point to what we do, but we continue under the statute. We think we perform a duty to the citizens of our district, but if they (county officials) choose to eliminate us, then they would have to take on the responsibility of levying the taxes.”
Berquist and two other board members each are paid $1,000 a year for their service and their duties include approving a budget and tax levy at an annual meeting and hearing complaints from citizens, although Berquist said none has shown up to meetings in recent years.
He said that given the modest expenses the district incurs, it’s unlikely that eliminating the district would save taxpayers any money. And he enjoys the opportunity to work in his community.
“My wife says, ‘Aren’t you too old to do this, why don’t you retire?'” I say, ‘I enjoy doing this.’ If they chose to eliminate my job, so be it. But I’m willing to serve as long as the structure exists.”