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updated: 4/10/2011 11:44 PM

Suburban lawmakers pitch ideas to save money on local government

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  • State Sen. Dan Kotowski

      State Sen. Dan Kotowski

 
 

Tiny governments across the suburbs would have to prove they're needed or be merged into others. Voters would be able to eliminate certain township positions.

Those are two proposals being pitched by suburban lawmakers in Springfield as a way to make local governments more efficient and save money.

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In a state with more units of government than any in the nation, and in the wake of local elections that saw record low turnout across the West and Northwest suburbs, the proposals are timely -- and likely to draw both supporters and staunch opponents.

The proposals by Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan and Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge are likely to receive a strong pushback from some local officials, who argue their roles are vital and necessary.

Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling supports Kotowski's idea allowing local voters to decide whether to roll some of a township's services, for example, into the county in an effort to save money.

But not many of Yingling's counterparts agree, he said.

"I have received some constructive criticism from other elected township officials," he said.

Link's plan calls for creating a commission to dissolve or merge local governments across the state. His bipartisan commission would force all local governments to come forward and prove their worth.

"They would have to sell their case," Link said.

Then, the commission would create a statewide plan to eliminate or consolidate governments that lawmakers would have to approve -- or not -- without tweaking.

That way, Link says, individual lawmakers couldn't change the plan to exempt local governments in their areas.

"Next thing you know, we're not voting on anything," he said.

Link's plan could get a hearing this week.

Meanwhile, Kotowski, who is chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, plans to file legislation that would allow certain township positions to be eliminated by referendum.

"There's a duplication of services across the board," he said. "We need to look at all aspects of township government to reduce duplications and save taxpayers money."

Kotowski said it would put more power "in the hands of voters."

Last week's election was notable in both the number of uncontested races and in the record low turnout by voters.

Some experts suggest that with so many governmental units, it's a near impossible task for voters to learn as much as they need to make informed decisions about so many candidates. And, then there's the lack of interest in serving on these local governments board, as seen in the number of uncontested races.

A Daily Herald analysis of the 528 local races in last Tuesday's municipal election in Northwest suburban Cook and Lake, DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties found only 238 were contested.

About 50 percent of school and municipal board positions were contested. But four of five regional office of education seats were uncontested, as were 47 of 70 library boards, 16 of 24 fire protection districts, and 49 of 74 park districts.

And few voters came out to cast ballots.

DuPage County saw 16.4 percent turnout -- its lowest in municipal election history.

Suburban Cook County turnout also was a record low at 16 percent, down from 20.8 percent in 2009 and 17.2 percent in 2007.

In Kane County, just 12.4 percent of registered voters came out, the lowest mark in at least 24 years for a nonpartisan, consolidated election. And in McHenry County, just 12.5 percent of registered voters went to the polls, also a record low.

"People just didn't get excited for local races, and they probably should. The outcome of the race will affect taxes for a long time," said Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said.

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