Not long after DuPage County was granted the authority to dismantle some of the more obscure local units of government, county board Chairman Dan Cronin is taking aim at a tiny target: mosquitoes.
As we all know, Illinois has struggled mightily with its economy, has the worst credit rating in the nation and so forth. But there's one area where we're second to none: government. There are almost 7,000 units of government in Illinois, with Pennsylvania a distant second. Many of these governments, from municipal boards to fire districts and, yes, mosquito abatement, crisscross the suburbs. DuPage County alone has more than 400.
Cronin, a former state legislator, has been on a crusade to reduce that number. It wasn't too long into the process that he discovered how tough that could be: In the eastern portion of the county, a sanitary district that existed only on paper and provided no services was the first to be considered for potential dissolution. Even the appointed officials running the district agreed it served no useful purpose anymore. Despite that unanimity for getting rid of an unneeded layer of government, state law prevented the county from taking action. So Cronin persuaded two local legislators, Tom Cullerton of Villa Park and Deborah Conroy of Elmhurst, to sponsor a bill that would give DuPage County alone the authority to "thoughtfully consider the dissolution of a narrow set of county-appointed (nonelected) agencies when it is determined that cost savings can be realized." The measure passed unanimously in the state Senate and by a vote of 108 to 6 in the House.
Despite the lopsided vote, it still isn't exactly a mandate to quickly knock Illinois off its perch in the most-governments sweepstakes. So one could argue that all of this may be more of a symbolic gesture than meaningful reform. Cronin has his eye on 13 governments in DuPage, ranging from those "paper" districts to a -- get this -- street lighting district near Naperville established decades ago to pay for illuminating streets in one subdivision.
But first, Cronin thinks we need fewer hands trying to ward off those pesky mosquitoes. No fewer than 45 governments, including some specialized mosquito abatement districts, are involved in mosquito control. The issue has taken on a heightened urgency with the number of cases of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile virus, continuing to grow. Cronin recommends using as a model Bloomingdale Township, which got into the government consolidation business quite by accident. In 1999, the township found itself with an unexpected surplus. It opted to take over mosquito abatement for all of the township, with all the other governments chipping in toward the cost. That plan remains in effect today, and Cronin reasons, if implemented in DuPage's other eight townships, mosquito abatement would be handled by nine agencies rather than 45. Of course, nothing ever comes off without a hitch. One potential stumbling block is the forest preserve district, DuPage's biggest property owner with 12 percent of the county's total acreage. The district has a no-spraying policy, which might be at odds with the big-picture mosquito abatement plan.
The county board is slated to discuss all this on Tuesday.
Cronin is quick to point out reform requires baby steps before it becomes a movement. He hopes DuPage can serve as a model for other counties to take similar action. What if, he says, the other 101 counties in Illinois were granted similar authority to winnow down duplicative agencies? That is significant, but, alas, by my math not enough to turn our most-governments distinction over to Pennsylvania.
But it's a start.