Bill would create financial watch list for towns

Updated 2/15/2017 7:52 PM

Illinois would collect financial information from towns and publish an annual list of those in "financial distress" under legislation proposed in the House.

Under the bill sponsored by Chicago Democrat Dan Burke, the comptroller would track which villages and towns fail to submit annual audits and financial reports to the state as is required by law. The comptroller would be required to review those audits and publish an annual report identifying which towns are in "financial distress" -- defined as "in danger of being unable to provide basic services or pay bills as they come due."


Indicators of distress that other states have used include levels of debt and general fund balances. North Chicago was named as an example, with $132 million in debt and $12 million in its fund balance.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's office, which supports the bill, described to the committee a situation in suburban Ford Heights, which shuttered its police department in 2000.

"We are still the de facto police department for Ford Heights," Dart aide Joseph Ryan said. "Problems are only increasing in many municipalities. We are essentially the backup law enforcement. ... We thought that there had to be a better way to understand when this might be happening."

Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan, a former Des Plaines mayor, called it "a great idea."

Towns "get revenue from us and we need to better determine whether they're being fiscally responsible," he said.

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No opponents of the measure were present as it was introduced in Springfield on Wednesday, but some members asked that the comptroller's office clarify how it would identify and work with municipalities having financial trouble.

The Illinois State Board of Education has a similar watchlist for school districts experiencing financial trouble, which state Rep. Chris Welch of Westchester said has served the state well.

The measure is being considered by the cities and villages committee. If it passes, if would move to the full House.

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