The Cook County Unincorporated Task Force has completed its initial findings, and recommends that all unincorporated areas of the county be eventually annexed into existing municipalities, President Toni Preckwinkle announced today.
President Preckwinkle directed the formation of the Task Force on November 4, 2011 fulfilling a goal promised in her Transition Report. Budget reviews by the president’s new administration showed the continued provision of “municipal”-type services to unincorporated areas strain the county’s financial resources, reducing available funds for the county’s primary functions – health care and criminal justice. The President charged the Task Force with investigating the provision of services to unincorporated Cook County, and the associated costs.
The group met for the first time on December 14, 2011. After completing its final meeting April 30th, 2012, the Task Force presented President Preckwinkle with its report, which includes an aspirational, long-term goal of eliminating all unincorporated land to make every resident of Cook County also a resident of a municipality. Strategies outlined in the Task Force report are intended to mu ake annexation of any given unincorporated area more feasible. The Task Force determined that moving to an environment where all areas of Cook County are contained within a municipality will provide for more local control over local public policy decisions and allow the County to realize significant budget savings over time. Task Force members have offered to serve an additional six months to help get the implementation effort up and running and to further investigate the two largest components of the report: policing services and infrastructure/housing issues.
“I am grateful to the Task Force for its hard work tackling a complicated and controversial issue,” President Preckwinkle said. “It’s clear that in order to reduce our staggering budget deficit, and maintain value for taxpayers, we need to move toward the goals outlined in this report, and eliminate the unincorporated areas of Cook County.”
The Task Force report is broken down into three categories based on timing: Immediate (up to and including the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget); Near-Term (as part of or before the FY2014 budget process), and Long-Term (no timeline specified). Generally speaking, these strategies are designed to allow the County to work in cooperation with interested municipalities and residents to craft annexation agreements. The most significant obstacle to annexation in most cases is the current status of the built infrastructure in unincorporated Cook County and the bulk of the recommended strategies seek to address those infrastructure issues. Some of the recommendations highlights are as follows:
• Encourage municipalities to annex unincorporated parcels with less than 100 residents, with a specific focus on parcels smaller than 60 acres.
• Improve code enforcement, particularly within densely populated unincorporated areas. Substandard building conditions, particularly in large, multi-family housing developments, currently represent a significant barrier to annexation.
• Review the allocation and categorization of Sheriff’s Police expenses to better define what police services are only provided in unincorporated Cook County and those that are provided County-wide.
Seek funding from local foundations and other resources to create an implementation team that would execute the strategies from the report.
• Shift the annexation push to parcels with more than 100 residents and/or larger than 60 acres. This will require case-by-case considerations and negotiations with both municipalities and residents.
• Create fee-for service models and otherwise adjust current revenue streams to fully cover the costs of providing services to unincorporated Cook County.
• Where annexation proves to be infeasible, explore entering into intergovernmental agreements with adjoining municipalities for police patrol, code enforcement, and other services.
• Ensure that no new major construction occurs in unincorporated areas that does not meet common municipal standards.
The Task Force offered a number of additional recommendations outside the scope of the report. These include encouraging the Sheriff’s Office to explore contracting with willing municipalities to provide police services for a fee; seeking reimbursement either from municipalities or the state for the cost of police patrol services currently provided within incorporated communities; and reviewing the operations of all police departments within Cook County government to determine whether any consolidation is possible.
The Task Force is comprised of the following members, selected from a variety of stakeholder constituencies (* denotes those serving as private citizens):
King Harris, Chair, Metropolitan Planning Council
Timothy Schneider, Cook County Commissioner
Deborah Sims, Cook County Commissioner
Jeffrey Tobolski, Cook County Commissioner
Dave Bennett, Executive Director, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus
Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Philip “Flip” Corboy*
Laurence Msall, President, The Civic Federation
Carol Teschky, Supervisor, Maine Township
Henderson Yarbrough, Mayor, Village of Maywood