Residents of unincorporated Cook County may still wind up paying more for police protection, but probably not this year or as much as Preckwinkle originally proposed.
After hearing from suburban county commissioners, municipal leaders and constituents, Preckwinkle put the brakes on plans to create special service areas in more than 100 pockets of unincorporated areas that would have covered the cost of continuing sheriff's patrols. On average, Preckwinkle's plan would have cost property owners in those unincorporated areas $150 extra on their tax bills per year. It was expected to generate roughly $5 million a year.
Instead, Preckwinkle announced the formation of a 13-member task force Friday that will examine the best method for unincorporated areas throughout the county to maintain police protection in a "fairer fashion." The task force will report back its recommendations in six months. The task force is comprised of commissioners, residents, civic leaders and elected township and municipal officials.
Bartlett Republican Commissioner Timothy Schneider is a member of the task force who pushed for Preckwinkle to rethink her plan.
"I applaud President Preckwinkle for setting aside this matter for this year and convening a task force to look into efficient and effective alternatives," he said. "Reforming county government is about improving service delivery and lowering costs for the constituents we serve."
Gregg Goslin, a Republican board commissioner from Glenview who represents much of the far north and northwestern reaches of the county, said it's likely the county will contract with municipalities to provide police protection for nearby unincorporated areas.
"It really makes sense and it will save millions," Goslin said.
The commissioner said he made similar overtures to municipalities about eight years ago to provide the same services, but was roundly rejected.
"They slammed the doors in my face," he said.
What's changed? Goslin suspects that unincorporated areas have shrunk in eight years, which makes it easier for municipal departments to patrol. And cash-strapped municipalities could probably use the extra funds the county is offering for the service.
Goslin's district includes about 35 unincorporated areas of varying sizes.
Preckwinkle contends the 98 percent of taxpayers who own property in incorporated areas have been "subsidizing" police protection for the 2 percent who are in unincorporated areas. That's because the majority of Cook County residents pay for police protection through their municipal property taxes, while unincorporated residents don't pay that cost.
However, some unincorporated residents argue they are not receiving some benefits from the county that other residents get. Carol Teschky, Maine Township supervisor, is a member of the task force who heard plenty from some of the 35,000 residents of unincorporated areas in her township. Many complained that they pay for a county vehicle sticker that costs about $40 a year that other residents don't pay.
"They thought some of that money was going toward some police protection, but I guess it's not," Teschky said. "They weren't too happy."
Preckwinkle hopes the task force's recommendations relieve any inequities and unfairness.
"We believe that there are different potential opportunities out there for each unincorporated area," she said.
Civic Federation President Laurence Msall is also a member of the task force and he hopes the group's recommendations will result in less duplication of services between the county and municipalities.
"Having unincorporated areas randomly throughout the county is anachronistic and unnecessary in a modern county," he said. "The county shouldn't be providing what amounts to municipal services and that goes beyond police patrols. The overall goal is to make sure that residents of Cook County are getting the best service."