Report: Cook County should eliminate unincorporated areas

Cook County should eventually eliminate all of its unincorporated areas to reduce taxes and improve services to residents in those neighborhoods, according to a new report released Thursday by Chicago-based The Civic Federation, a nonpartisan research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues.

About 2.4 percent, or 126,034, of Cook County's 5.2 million residents live in unincorporated areas. According to the report, the county pays about $42.9 million annually to provide services such as law enforcement that could be provided better and more efficiently from a municipality.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the county only receives $24 million in taxes from residents in unincorporated areas, meaning county residents who live within municipal borders fund the remaining $18.9 million for those services.

Not only are people in unincorporated neighborhoods relying on their municipal neighbors to subsidize their services, but in many cases the level of service is as good, he said.

"In a modern county, having unincorporated areas without direct municipal services is outdated, inefficient and expensive to the overall county," Msall said.

Getting municipalities to annex unincorporated neighborhoods on their borders has long been a goal for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. In 2012, a tax force she empaneled called for annexations, saying it would reduce costs and give residents more local control over their services.

But suburban leaders worry that if they annex unincorporated land, their existing residents would be saddled with the cost of improving those neighborhoods' infrastructure.

"Some roads and stormwater systems are not up to village standards," Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said. "It could be a very large cost to the community."

Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen and Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus cited similar reasons for their disinterest in annexing unincorporated land on their village's borders.

"Our loyalties lie with current residents of Arlington Heights," Recklaus said. "We aren't inclined to annex unless we believe it is going to benefit our residents."

Msall said county or state money could be given to municipalities to help pay the costs of annexation.

If Cook County does as the report says, the cost of living in an unincorporated area will increase, either by annexation or through increased taxes and fees, which are recommended in the report. Preckwinkle previously suggested a $150 annual surcharge on unincorporated properties to fund sheriff's patrols, but later backed down from the proposal.

"We need to alleviate any financial incentives that those living in or operating a business in unincorporated areas have by making them pay for the municipal services provided by the county," Msall said.

Among the revenue recommendations are imposing incident response fees and increasing the wheel tax for residents of unincorporated areas.

The report, which Msall said took about four years to complete, can be read at

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