Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is calling for the elimination of all unincorporated areas in the coming years in order to relieve the county's strained financial resources.
Under the proposal, nearby municipalities would annex the county's 62 square miles of unincorporated land, leaving towns and villages to pick up the cost for services like police protection and code enforcement.
Preckwinkle appointed a task force in November 2011 to investigate the provision of services to unincorporated Cook County, as well as the associated costs. The study was completed and results were announced during a press conference Monday morning.
According to Preckwinkle, recent budget reviews have shown that providing "municipal-type" services to the 98,000 residents in unincorporated Cook County is reducing available funds for the county's primary functions—health care and criminal justice.
"I am grateful to the task force for its hard work tackling a complicated and controversial issue," she stated in a press release. "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."
(Sign up for Patch’s email newsletter and get all the top local headlines in your inbox each morning.)
According to Preckwinkle, the report determined that the elimination of unincorporated areas "will provide for more local control over local public policy decisions and allow the county to realize significant budget savings over time."
The task force has broken the process into three parts—immediate (next year), near-term (next two years) and long-term (no timeline).
Task force members hope to begin the implementation effort in the coming months, and plan to further investigate the two largest components of the report—policing services and infrastructure/housing issues.
In the next year, municipalities will be encouraged to annex unincorporated parcels with fewer than 100 residents, with a specific focus on parcels smaller than 60 acres, according to the report.
Near-term goals include shifting the annexation push to larger parcels, and creating fee-for-service models and adjusting revenue streams to cover the costs of providing services to unincorporated areas.
If annexation proves to be infeasible in some areas, the panel could pursue intergovernmental agreements with adjoining municipalities for police patrol, code enforcement and other services.
During the press conference, Preckwinkle said she hopes to achieve the panel's goal by the end of the decade. The long-term savings for Cook County is still unknown, she said.
Unincorporated areas near Western Springs include La Grange Highlands, a community bordered by the Village to the northwest, Indian Head Park to the southwest, La Grange to the northeast, and Countryside to the east.
Western Springs Director of Community Development Marty Scott said that it was too early for substantial comment, but that at the very least Village staff would be likely to discuss the implications of the Cook County proposal.
“[Land annexation] is a complex issue whenever it comes up," Scott said.
Scott added that any hypothetical annexation would be very different from (and even more complicated than) the 2005 annexation of Timber Trails, because La Grange Highlands already has established homes and businesses. Additionally, every department would have to be involved in any expansion of services.