The Lake County Board chairman and the Democratic candidate who is seeking the McHenry County Board’s top seat are pledging to use a new law that allows both bodies to eliminate a handful of small units of government.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, R-Vernon Hills, said in a joint statement that they would take full advantage of the consolidation legislation, which was filed by Franks and was signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Franks is running for McHenry County Board chairman against Republican candidate and board member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake.
House Bill 229 granted both county boards the same power that the General Assembly granted DuPage County three years ago under a pilot program aimed at whittling down some of the state’s nearly 7,000 units of local government. The new law allows the boards to eliminate taxing bodies for which they appoint a majority of trustees, provided its boundaries are completely within the county.
Franks in pushing for the legislation has called it a small but important step in the right direction that could lead to more laws allowing local governments and voters to either consolidate or eliminate excessive levels of government.
“We are seeing thousands of citizens fleeing McHenry County and Lake County because they can no longer afford to pay the ever-increasing property tax rates,” Franks said. “Our communities will never be able to thrive as they once did if this trend continues unabated.”
Under the new law, county boards must cite a legitimate reason that concludes that the body proposed for elimination provides either unnecessary or duplicative services. Citizens in the body’s boundaries can petition the county clerk to force the proposed elimination to a voter referendum. The bill does not apply to fire districts with full-time employees, and exempts conservation districts.
Franks’ bill originally only applied to McHenry County, but Lawlor – who has supported consolidation and trimming down the multitude of subsidiary bodies of county government – asked for Lake County to be added.
“This legislative change helps us build on Lake County’s consolidation efforts to improve efficiency of government services and alleviate tax burdens on the residents,” Lawlor said. “We recognize that in these tough times, the same old way of conducting our business just doesn’t cut it.”
The new law only would allow the McHenry County Board to eliminate a handful of bodies, such as the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District, the Crystal Lake Rural Fire District and the Greenwood and Hebron drainage districts. DuPage County, which has more than 400 units of local government, has eliminated several of the 13 bodies that fall under the law.
Illinois has the most local units of government of any state, as well as the highest average property tax burden.
This is the first election in which the McHenry County Board chairmanship will be elected by the people.