Eliminating unnecessary units of local government, finding a cost-effective way to battle mosquitoes and seeking more money for public transit are some of the key issues DuPage County officials expect to face in 2014.
County board Chairman Dan Cronin recently sat down with the Daily Herald to share his thoughts about the coming year, which will be the fourth of his administration.
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The Elmhurst Republican, who is seeking re-election, said his top priority is to "take the next step" with his DuPage ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative.
The initiative, which was launched in 2012, called on 24 local governmental entities to make structural and operational reforms. Now, thanks to a state law approved last year, DuPage has the authority to eliminate as many as 13 of those agencies, including fire protection, sanitary and mosquito abatement districts.
"We have the tools," Cronin said. "Now we have to show results. We have to show how we can save money and enhance services."
The first taxing body DuPage is poised to ax is the Fairview Fire Protection District, which covers an unincorporated area near Downers Grove. As a so-called "paper" district, Fairview collects property taxes from the owners of 187 parcels and uses the money to pay Downers Grove to provide emergency response and fire services.
Instead of continuing that arrangement, Downers Grove has formed a special service area where Fairview residents will pay the village directly for the services they receive. That will allow DuPage to disband the fire protection district in early 2014. The move is expected to result in a one-time savings of $100,000 for Fairview taxpayers.
While the county will work to dissolve some units of government, Cronin stressed an agency doesn't need to be eliminated to save taxpayers money. "There are going to be examples where we realize cost savings and efficiencies through new structure, joint purchasing and streamlining of processes," he said.
One area where there could be a potential savings is mosquito control. Right now, DuPage has 45 municipalities, townships and service districts targeting the insects.
Last year, a mosquito abatement task force advised officials to explore whether DuPage's nine townships should oversee all of the county's abatement efforts. But the idea faces an obstacle.
"Frankly, there are some villages that don't want to do business with the townships," Cronin said.
So officials are talking about the possibility of pursuing a countywide contract for mosquito abatement services to save money. Right now, 36 governmental entities sign separate contracts with the same company to reduce the mosquito population.
Another possible cost-savings move in 2014 could involve the DuPage County clerk's office and the DuPage Election Commission. Cronin is going to work with County Clerk Gary King and election commission Chairwoman Cathy Ficker Terrill to explore whether certain functions of both offices could be consolidated to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
"Administratively, it seems to me we can realize some savings," Cronin said. "There are employees who work for the clerk's office. There employees who work for the election commission. Why can't they be cross trained to work for both?"
Overall, Cronin said he wants DuPage to demonstrate consolidation is possible. "Hopefully, the experience we have ... could become an example that would be replicated," he said.
DuPage leaders also hope to answer some questions about the future of the county fairgrounds in Wheaton.
A real estate task force is trying to determine if the DuPage County Fair is the best use for the 42-acre site along Manchester Road. The advisory panel then will recommend whether the county, which owns the site next to the government complex, should continue leasing the fairgrounds to the DuPage County Fair Association, the nonprofit entity that organizes and runs the annual fair.
"I am committed to the fair. It's a wonderful cultural experience," Cronin said. "I just think it's my duty and obligation as a steward of the taxpayers' money to explore other uses for that property."
The fairgrounds site is being leased to the fair association at a rate of $1,375 annually as part of a deal that expires in 2020.
Cronin stressed that officials aren't looking to "just sell the land and develop it."
"It's an asset of the county," he said. "If we were to explore uses of that land, it would be a use that furthers the mission of the county."
County officials recently met with a developer who pitched the idea of providing housing for seniors on the site. At one time, a federal courthouse had been the most speculated potential development for the parcel.
When it comes to public transit, Cronin says he's continuing to push for the suburbs to get their fair share of transit dollars, which come from sales taxes.
For example, Cronin said he wasn't pleased with how the Regional Transportation Authority divvied up roughly $180 million in discretionary revenues for 2014. The Chicago Transit Authority requested and received 98 percent of the money. Pace got 2 percent. Metra received none if it.
"We've got significant public transit needs," Cronin said. "Why does our money go there (to the CTA) when we need it right here in our own back yard?"
Cronin said he's hoping "a better model" for public transit is developed when a task force commissioned by Gov. Pat Quinn recommends reforms to the General Assembly.
"It comes down to governance and funding," Cronin said. "I believe DuPage County should have a prominent seat at the table. We generate a lot of tax revenue and we have a significant population. So I'm going to be advocating that we play a larger role."