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Article updated: 10/8/2012 3:19 PM

Government consolidation: DuPage takes push to state

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Before there can be any realistic chance of eliminating some of DuPage County's more than 400 taxing bodies, Springfield must get involved.

That's the message DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin plans to convey Wednesday to a group of state lawmakers when they visit Wheaton for a public hearing on consolidation.

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The Local Government Consolidation Commission is supposed to come up with ways to trim the state's huge number of local governmental agencies.

Cronin said he wants DuPage to be "the test case" for the rest of the state. Illinois has more than 7,000 units of local government, from counties to townships to sanitary districts.

"Everybody is talking about consolidation," Cronin told representatives of the Daily Herald Editorial Board. "Let us demonstrate how to do it."

Cronin has been championing consolidation as a way to save money and improve services since before he took office in January 2011. As board chairman, the former state senator has been "trying to develop momentum" for eliminating some of the local governmental entities overseen by boards and commissions that he appoints.

In the wake of separate financial scandals on the DuPage Water Commission and DuPage Housing Authority, the county hired a public accounting firm to analyze two dozen taxing bodies, including fire protection districts, sanitary districts and mosquito abatement districts.

Once the accounting firm's recommendations were released, Cronin unveiled a plan to get "measurable, tangible changes." The so-called DuPage ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative includes prohibiting the use of credit cards, ensuring public documents and meeting schedules are available online, and exploring consolidation opportunities.

"We've already seen results," Cronin said. "We've eliminated credit cards, cellphones and other costly perks."

But when it comes to consolidation, Cronin admits there's only so much county leaders can do on their own.

Despite using his power as chairman to appoint people who support consolidation to various boards and commissions, the process of eliminating an agency is technically difficult.

"There is a complex statutory scheme," Cronin said. "There are referendum requirements. It would be extremely costly to do some things the state law prescribes."

That's where Cronin needs state lawmakers to step in by making changes to Illinois law.

"We're a non-home rule community, and a lot of these (local government entities) are creations of the legislature," Cronin said. "So we have to ask them to unwind some of this."

Wednesday morning's public hearing at the DuPage County administration building, 421 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton, will be Cronin's opportunity to "share our story" with the consolidation commission, which is supposed to make recommendations to Gov. Pat Quinn by the end of the year. The commission's chairman, Democratic Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, has said consolidation could save millions of dollars.

"I'm going to ask them if they would consider helping us with some legislation," Cronin said. "Because ultimately, we're going to need some authority to consolidate some of these local agencies and commissions."

Cronin declined to provide specific details about the legislation he's seeking. He said he first wants to explain to state leaders what DuPage has accomplished and what obstacles stand in the way of consolidation.

"I want to show them how ridiculous it is that we can't unwind an agency in spite of the fact that everybody who's involved with it wants to," he said.

Cronin said the proposed legislation likely will be "very narrow."

"I am going to start with what works for us," said Cronin, adding that merging just a few agencies would be "a win."

He said the goal is to demonstrate to the public that there are ways for local government to save money and become more efficient by merging different agencies.

"If we're successful," Cronin said, "DuPage County could be held out as a model of how to actually address the issue of consolidation in a meaningful way."

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