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Why Preckwinkle plan to save $55 million a year might not work

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Lots of ideas are circulating about how to cut the cost of Cook County government, and among them is this one: getting out of the business of providing services to unincorporated areas.

What catches the eye of the cost-cutters is a potential savings of $54.7 million a year.

But don't start writing all those savings into Cook County budget calculations just yet. It won't be all that easy to achieve.

Toni Preckwinkle, recently elected Cook County Board president, has said she thinks responsibility for unincorporated areas should be "assumed by the nearest municipality."

Right now, the county provides law enforcement; highways; and building-and-zoning and animal-control services for unincorporated areas. Preckwinkle would like to hand those responsibilities over to the nearest village or city.

"I think that over the long term our goal should be to eliminate unincorporated areas," Preckwinkle said.

But here's the catch. In many cases, those adjoining municipalities don't want the unincorporated areas. The prime tax base - shopping centers, auto dealerships, etc. - most likely already has been annexed to a municipality. What's left are tax base losers - areas that don't generate enough tax revenue to cover the services they need. Municipalities don't want them for the same reason Preckwinkle wants to get rid of them. They blow a hole in whoever's budget they are in.

Moreover, unincorporated areas often lack sewers, curbs or gutters that meet municipal codes. Many use well water and would have to hook up to municipal water systems. That costs money.

Other counties around the state routinely provide services to areas that aren't inside municipal borders. But 85 percent of the land in Cook is part of one of the 128 municipalities in the county. The 109,000 residents in the dozens of small unincorporated areas that together total 946 square miles make up just 2.1 percent of the county's 5.28 million population. According to the Civic Federation's calculations, the $54.7 million spent on services to unincorporated areas comes to $501 per resident.

The county also operates 1,439 lane-miles of roads and highways in both incorporated and unincorporated areas, according to Civic Federation numbers. An earlier effort to transfer some of them to municipal control was not exactly welcomed by municipal officials, who didn't want the associated maintenance costs.

To get around municipal opposition, the Civic Federation in its Cook County Modernization Report released last month proposed the creation of "special service areas." These would show up as extra lines on the property tax bills of landowners in unincorporated areas. The idea is they would generate enough extra money to offset the cost of providing services.

Special service areas would add more layers of government in a metropolitan area that already has 88 "miscellaneous" governmental units to go with its 1,138 county, municipal, township, school district, fire district, park district and library district governmental bodies
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4 Comments

The best location to live is in unincorporated areas. It would be best to eliminate the Crook County govt and save unincorporated areas.

Privatize the eviction function from the Sheriffs and get rid of the lazy sheriffs. I will gladly pay more to evict my deadbeat tenants. It takes forever to get rid of a bad tenant in Crook County because of the incompetent and lazy sheriffs.

Tenants might actually pay their rent if the eviction process was faster like in other counties and states. It might also encourage more investment in crappy areas.

Is it just me or was the report the other day about the incoming Crook County President's http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/2881738,CST-NWS-preck10.article ability to pay hospital bills suspicious?

She has a new job, but do not want it until her husband's hospital bill is paid from the old one. Do anyone believe he went to Stroger's Hospital for medical care? You know, the place where she wants to work and got the job!

Amazingly, she has re-neged on the her boast about rescinding a tax cut and now want tax-payers to foot her husband's hospital bill. How much is the Cook County or the new Ms. Crook County President's salary again?

And a lot of you thought Mr. Stroger was doing wrong. Yeah, Okay! Find a sucker - Ms. / Mr. Tax-payers - and take 'em for every thing they got!

Have Chicago and Cook County voters noticed Ms. Preckwinkle's back-pedaling on her promises to voters?

Some voters like to be lied to. At least the exiting Cook County Board President, Mr. Todd Stroger, told the truth about the budget and county system.

Ms. Preckwinkle and her transition team can whine about county information not facilitated quickly or smoothly in the press, but maybe it is due to the lack of skills, abilities and the daunting deficiency of knowledge she and her team have that hinders the hand off to this newly elected county president.

What? You thought it was going to be another history lesson with Benjamin Franklin? If so, maybe you should have thought more on the lines of what former Mayor Harold Washington went through, instead of lying to voters.

BTW, is your spouse finally going to Stroger's Hospital for medical treatment(s). Oh my bad, you and he do not go to Stroger's Hospital.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on November 9, 2010 2:19 PM.

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