Kane to investigate disbanding Aurora Election Commission

Just when it looked like officials would create the first written, mutual agreement spelling out the funding and operation of the Aurora Election Commission, Kane County Board members said Thursday they would rather work toward disbanding it.

Kane County Chief Judge Judith Brawka began working with the commission and the city of Aurora in July 2013 to resolve conflicts about the commission's funding. As it stands, Aurora and Kane County are required to fund the commission. Kane County kicks in about $400,000 a year, and Aurora's commitment is more than $600,000.

But neither taxing body has authority to set the commission's budget, which has resulted in multiple late bill payments.

Brawka brokered a nonbinding memo of understanding that spells out procedures for exchanging information about the commission's budget, bill payment and funding schedule.

"There's never been a real procedure for that in place," Brawka said. "It's always operated on a thin line of crisis and, sometimes, inertia."

But the $400,000 price tag fueled doubt about the commission's true value. Members of the county board's public service committee asked Brawka and Kane County Elections Director Suzanne Fahnestock why Aurora needs its own commission.

It's a question Aurora officials revisited three years ago when the city's payment to the commission went over $500,000 for the first time. It was an increase of about $160,000 from the previous year, leading Mayor Tom Weisner to suggest there must be a cheaper way to conduct elections in Aurora.

But Weisner's questions never went anywhere. Fahnestock echoed to board members the same lessons Aurora learned in 2012.

"On our end, we all agree that we should see some kind of change," Fahnestock said. "But because they were established through a referendum (in 1934), it has to be done the same way to end the commission. Unless the people in the city circulate a petition to make that change and allow the question to be on the ballot, we are not going to see a change."

Both Fahnestock and Brawka said there would be a cost savings for Aurora voters, the city of Aurora and Kane County if the commission disbanded.

Right now, Aurora voters are double taxed, once by the city and once by the county, to fund election services. If the commission disbanded Aurora residents would pay only a lesser tax to whichever county they live in. Various portions of the city fall into DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties.

Kane County Board member Phil Lewis said double taxation should be enough to fuel support to disband the commission once Aurora residents understand that is the situation.

"The people who live in Aurora deserve the most efficient, best way to do elections," Lewis said. "The fact that they pay twice makes no sense to me."

Lewis suggested board members should engage the commission's three-member board to discuss how to approach voters. Kane County officials are already familiar with one of the commission's longtime board members: Mike McCoy is a former Kane County Board chairman.

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