State leaders praise Naperville consolidation idea
The city of Naperville has the right idea when it comes to pursuing government consolidation, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said Friday during a visit to the municipal center.
The city this week proposed taking over road services for 16 miles maintained by Naperville Township, an idea inspired by a report from a state task force on government consolidation and unfunded mandates.
"They used our task force report as a conversation starter," Sanguinetti said. "They thought as Napervillians and they constructed ideas that would streamline and deliver more efficient, effective services for their own Naperville. That's the whole point of this task force report -- to give power back to the local, and that's exactly how you folks have utilized it."
The city estimates it could save taxpayers an average of $800,000 a year by maintaining roads served by the township's highway department, which is a separate taxing body from the township. The city would take over road maintenance, snow plowing, street sweeping, curb and sidewalk replacement, garbage collection, leaf and brush collection, forestry and mowing for payment under an intergovernmental agreement that could be forged with the highway department.
Naperville Township Highway Commissioner Stan Wojtasiak said he's heard concerns from many residents of the 866 homes that could be affected. Residents could see free mulch delivery end under the city's proposal, which also would decrease street sweeps from six a year to two and brush and leaf collection from six yearly pickups each to one for brush and three for leaves.
"They definitely, definitely do not want to be serviced by the city of Naperville," Wojtasiak said about residents who contacted him since the city voted Tuesday to pursue the consolidation. "They want to keep the services they have."
The city's proposed services would mow parkways between 20 and 26 times a year instead of four or five, introduce two new herbicide treatments and upgrade streetlights to LED bulbs from high-pressure sodium.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said assuming responsibility for Naperville Township road maintenance is the fair and equitable way to take care of the streets.
If enacted, the move could call into question Wojtasiak's job, which pays about $81,300 a year, according to Naperville Township Supervisor Rachel Ossyra. The city only would need two of the highway department's seven employees and the department would be left with little more than clerical work to complete.
"The road district will still be in place as sort of a paper district; they would just approve contracts and make sure of insurance and things of that nature, but the city would provide all of the services," Chirico said.
Wojtasiak said he doesn't think who maintains township roads should be decided by a few elected officials. If necessary, he said he would seek to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
"The voters gave me this job," Wojtasiak said. "If they don't want me to have it, they should be the ones to take it away."
Rauner, who during his visit to Naperville proposed four bills to support government consolidation, said any move to decrease government will face opposition.
"There will be naysayers that say, 'Well, this really won't save money,'" Rauner said. "The fact is the system exists because somebody wanted it; it didn't just randomly happen. So when we change it, somebody's ox is going to get gored. It's just true. So we're going to have some pushback."
Some township officials, including Ossyra and Trustee Paul Santucci, say they're open to considering the city's idea to take over road services.
"We have to look at it, see the numbers and make sure it is going to benefit our constituents," Santucci said.
But because the highway department has its own property tax levy, the decision rests with Wojtasiak -- or, if he moves forward with a ballot question, with the voters.
"This is an important issue and if it needs to go to a referendum, I'm confident that the voters would support it," Chirico said.