Cronin: Others should follow DuPage's blueprint for consolidation
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin says the steps DuPage has taken to streamline and consolidate local government could easily be replicated across the state.
During his State of the County address on Monday, Cronin said he's inviting leaders in other counties to examine the "blueprint" DuPage created to eliminate some government entities and reform others. He also helped create Transform Illinois, a coalition of elected officials, civic groups and research institutions dedicated to promoting local government efficiency efforts.
"We want to raise the level of awareness," Cronin said. "We want to start using our experiences in DuPage to apply statewide. We want to change the culture."
Cronin has been championing consolidation as a way to save money and improve services since before he took office in December 2010.
During his first term, he launched his ACT Initiative -- Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency -- which called on 24 local governmental entities to make structural and operational reforms.
Thanks to a state law approved in 2013, DuPage has been able to dissolve a fire protection district and sanitary district. And earlier this year, Cronin successfully pushed for the state to eliminate the DuPage Fair and Exposition Authority, a group that existed only to collect state money for the annual DuPage County Fair.
"In Illinois, it's much, much easier to create a local government than it is to dissolve one," Cronin told the crowd at a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "I've dissolved three, and I have plenty of scars to prove it."
In cases where DuPage stopped short of consolidation, Cronin said there's still been a savings of millions of dollars for taxpayers through simplification, collaboration, shared services, reducing unnecessary layers and using technology to make service more convenient.
"We've heard business owners and taxpayers who told us, 'Yes, we care about consolidation. But most importantly, we just want our government to work better and cost less,'" Cronin said.
Cronin said one example of that is the DuPage Water Commission, the agency that supplies Lake Michigan water to most of the towns in the county.
The commission has taken steps to wean itself off the quarter-cent sales tax, which generates about $33 million of its annual revenue. State law calls for the sales tax to be eliminated on June 1, 2016.
"Thanks to careful management and prudent financial stewardship, the quarter-cent sales tax that consumers pay to fund this agency is being eliminated in 2016," Cronin said to a round of applause.
"We're actually abolishing a tax," he said. "We're putting tax dollars back in consumers' pockets."
To prepare for the loss of the tax, the agency paid back its loans. Cronin said that will save the commission's customers about $10 million in interest and finance charges.
"This is a prime example of what government can do when leaders work together to streamline services," Cronin said.
Looking ahead, Cronin said DuPage is planning to pursue cost-saving measures with the forest preserve district. There also could be an opportunity to consolidate a street lighting district.
"We're not done," he said. "We're just getting warmed up."