Talk of having DuPage County become "a laboratory" for local government consolidation has some township officials nervous about being part of the experiment.
But county board Chairman Dan Cronin insists his plan to ask state lawmakers to make it easier to consolidate some local taxing bodies isn't part of a move to eliminate townships.
"My focus is not on township government," Cronin said, adding that his goal is to eliminate some of the local governmental entities overseen by boards and commissions that he appoints.
After doing an analysis of two dozen taxing bodies, Cronin unveiled an initiative aimed at reforming those agencies and making them more transparent. The plan also calls for those agencies to explore consolidation opportunities.
On Wednesday, Cronin told members of the state's Local Government Consolidation Commission that it's legally very difficult to eliminate a taxing body -- even if it's found to be "financially unstable, duplicative or simply unnecessary." Some entities, for example, can be dissolved only by voter approval.
"We will do as much as we can at our level," said Cronin, adding that agencies can be reformed at the local level. "But when it comes to dissolving, merging or even eliminating a local government agency, it's going to require a state law."
Cronin said his staff is in the process of drafting legislation for state lawmakers to consider next spring. He said the proposal would be "pretty narrow."
While Cronin didn't provide details about the proposal, he mentioned "paper" fire protection districts as something that "just doesn't make sense anymore." Paper districts raise money through property taxes and pay a neighboring fire department to provide fire protection and ambulance services.
"DuPage County can serve as a laboratory to test new ideas and create new policies that reduce the size and scope and cost of local government in the future," Cronin said.
Representatives from several townships sat in the audience in the county board room in Wheaton as Cronin spoke to the members of the consolidation commission.
When given the chance to make public comment, Bloomingdale Township Supervisor Ed Levato defended the role township government plays in providing services to residents.
"At the township level, we run very, very efficient services," Levato said.
As for consolidation, he said it must be pursued in a thoughtful way because consolidation alone isn't going to produce an efficient government.
Levato said that it's not the number of governmental entities that should be examined. "It's how we provide the services that we have," he said.
Cronin stressed that county officials have put a great deal of thought into the consolidation issue.
"We're not seeking consolidation for the sake of consolidation," Cronin said. "We're seeking consolidation because we think we can give taxpayers a better shake."
State Rep. Jack Franks, the consolidation commission's chairman, said the panel will need until sometime next year to complete its report for Gov. Pat Quinn. In the meantime, the Woodstock Democrat clarified the mission of the committee.
"We're not going after anybody," Franks said. "What we're trying to provide is ways that we can collaborate and be more efficient for the taxpayers."