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Article posted: 2/3/2014 5:30 AM

DuPage Dist. 4 candidates differ on consolidation

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While the three Republicans hoping to become their party's nominee for a District 4 seat on the DuPage County Board agree local governments should become more efficient, they have differing views on how to make that happen.

Consolidation has been a buzzword at the county administration building in Wheaton since Dan Cronin became county board chairman in 2010. Now, thanks to a state law approved last year, DuPage has the authority to eliminate as many as 13 local governmental entities, including fire protection, sanitary and mosquito abatement districts.

"Ever since Chairman Cronin came on board, he's talked about consolidation. That's something I want to build on," said Ronald Almiron of Wheaton, who is seeking the GOP nomination in the March 18 primary against incumbent Grant Eckhoff of Wheaton and fellow challenger Paula McGowen of Glen Ellyn.

Whoever wins the Republican primary election will advance to the general election to face the Democratic nominee, which will be either M. Moon Kahn of Lombard or Jeremy Custer of Glendale Heights.

The candidate who is victorious in November will get a 4-year term representing District 4, which includes all or parts of Addison, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Lisle, Lombard, Wheaton and Winfield.

If elected, Almiron says he would bring "innovative ideas" and look to enhance the quality of county services while being cost effective.

"As good as we're doing, we can do better," the 47-year-old attorney said. "And I think District 4 deserves better."

But when Almiron said during a recent meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board that the county should explore outsourcing opportunities, Eckhoff pointed out that's already happened.

Eckhoff says DuPage saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by hiring a private company to provide security at the county campus.

The 54-year-old attorney also stressed he was pursing consolidation ideas years before Cronin became chairman.

"It didn't start in 2010," Eckhoff said. "It started a long time before that."

Eckhoff said consolidation is inevitable because every government agency in DuPage is dealing with budget challenges.

Therefore, Eckhoff said he and others are exploring proposals to consolidate fire districts and fire departments. The goal is to deliver a high level of fire protection and emergency medical services and save taxpayers money.

"The idea is to reduce the cost of government so property taxes can be lowered," he said.

McGowen says one cost-savings move would be to combine the DuPage County clerk's office and the DuPage Election Commission.

It's been nearly four decades since election oversight was stripped from the clerk's office to create the election commission. McGowen argues it simply makes financial sense to undo that decision.

"Consolidation of the election commission and the county clerk's office is a cost-effective idea and should be looked at," the 59-year-old McGowen said.

But Almiron says merging the election commission and the clerk's office is a bad idea. He said he doesn't want the county clerk, who is a countywide elected official, handling the election process.

The election commission is overseen by a three-person board that has representatives from both political parties, although Republicans hold two of the three seats.

"The election commission is bipartisan, and there's a sense of transparency there," Almiron said. "We've had smooth elections. The election results reflect the will of the people. And that's in part due to how the election commission is being run.

"We should explore consolidation generally," he added. "But I think where it ain't broke, it doesn't need to be fixed."

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