Cronin: Merging two county offices a top issue
Hopes of a major consolidation victory in DuPage County were dashed in 2017 when state lawmakers failed to approve a measure to combine the county clerk's office with the DuPage Election Commission.
So it comes as no surprise that the proposed merger is the top issue on county board Chairman Dan Cronin's to-do list for 2018.
"We need them (state lawmakers) to pass a bill that simply folds the election commission into the clerk's office like in other counties throughout the state," Cronin said during an interview with the Daily Herald.
Election oversight power was stripped from the clerk's office in the early 1970s to create the election commission. A state law is required to reverse that move.
Last year, DuPage pushed legislation that would have merged the commission with the county clerk's office and created a new panel to provide bipartisan oversight of elections. But complaints from DuPage Democrats -- concerned about how the panel members would be selected -- prevented the measure from advancing through the House.
Now county officials are seeking only to merge the offices.
"It's cleaner," Cronin said. "I don't think there should be any controversy whatsoever."
Still, the county board has agreed to put an advisory referendum question about the issue on the March primary ballot. Cronin said he expects voters to overwhelmingly support the consolidation idea. If they do, he'll take the results to Springfield and urge state lawmakers to act.
"I'm optimistic that it will be an effective strategy," he said.
Merging the election commission and the clerk's office would provide significant savings that would help the county achieve another goal: doing more with less.
The county had to eliminate some full-time deputy positions at the sheriff's office and make other cuts because of the loss of more than $3 million in revenue from the state. Cronin said he doesn't expect that money to return in 2018.
"I think that's the new normal," he said. "I just hope they don't take more."
He said the county must continue finding ways to save money. He said that should include examining spending in the sheriff's office.
"We need change over there," he said. "We can't afford to do things the way we've been doing them."
Cronin says he's been unable to explore cost-saving ideas with Sheriff John Zaruba. He said he hopes that will change when Zaruba retires at the end of the year.
Two supervisors with the sheriff's office -- Undersheriff Frank Bibbiano and patrol Cmdr. James Mendrick -- are running for sheriff in the Republican primary. The winner will face Democrat Gregory Whalen during the fall election.
When it comes to revenue, some county board members have suggested increasing future property tax levies to account for new construction. The county's levy has stayed roughly the same since 2010.
But Cronin said he's "not inclined" to increase the levy to account for new construction unless it's needed. There also are no plans to enact a countywide stormwater utility fee.
Meanwhile, the county is expected to make progress with its DuPage Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency Initiative.
The initiative, launched in 2012, initially called on two dozen local governmental entities to make structural and operational reforms. Thanks to a change in state law in 2013, the ACT initiative could result in the elimination of as many as 13 of those agencies.
The Highland Hills Sanitary District, which manages sanitary sewer service and water operations for roughly 465 residential and business properties in Lombard, is slated to be disbanded this year.
The dissolution is possible because the county will acquire the Highland Hills' water system and provide Lake Michigan water to its customers. The Flagg Creek Water Reclamation District will get Highland Hills' sanitary system.
"We anticipate that Lake Michigan water will be provided to Highland Hills by the springtime," Cronin said. "Then we can initiate the dissolution of the district."
Highland Hills will be the fifth unit of local government dissolved in DuPage.
Officials also are working on a plan to disband the North Westmont Fire Protection District. The district collects property taxes from the owners of 561 parcels and uses the money to pay Westmont to provide emergency response and fire services.
Cronin said the proposal calls for the property owners to pay Westmont for services through a special service agreement.