Chairman Cronin Shares Successes, Challenges, and an Outlook for DuPage County

Monday, September 28 Chairman Dan Cronin, DuPage County Board addressed Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce members at the annual State of the County luncheon. The following is a summary of Chairman Cronin’s address.

DuPage County Chairman Dan CroninChairman Cronin’s Address

It’s great to be here for the fifth time as Chairman, to share with you my perspective, a snapshot of the County, and to discuss some of our successes and challenges. I really do welcome this opportunity because the relationship between DuPage and our business community is vital. In DuPage County, we very consciously create an atmosphere that is friendly to business. We make attracting and retaining employers a top priority. As a small business owner myself, I know the many challenges you face to make payroll, maintain market share and compete in a global economy. So what can we do, on the local government side, to make things easier for business to compete in our state and in our region? Our friends at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce were kind enough to ask their membership this very question. And by way of full disclosure, those of you who have heard me speak at this event before know that I am a proponent of “smart” government. Here in DuPage our ACT Initiative stands for accountability, consolidation and transparency, and we seek each day to deliver quality government service in the most cost-effective, efficient way. It’s our brand. However, when we go to Springfield and try to pass laws to reduce the size of government, streamline delivery and modernize the design and operation of local government, we often find opposition among those who support the status quo. So even though the horse is out of barn, running on a new racetrack, there are those who want to keep delivering government services in the same old way, under a design that might be decades old. I often think to myself, “wait a minute. I can’t be alone here. I can’t be the only one in the State to think 7,000 units of local government are too many. If we could reduce some, streamline others and get everyone to share services, optimize technology and be transparent about the whole thing – surely someone else thinks that’s a good idea…right?” Well, I’m not all alone. Thanks to new survey data gathered by the Illinois Chamber, it turns out, you (businesses) agree. The Illinois Chamber surveyed members from across the state this past summer, including the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. They asked a couple of basic questions. Among them: What’s the greatest impediment you find when doing business locally? Could greater local government efficiency improve your business operations? What’s the number one concern of your business regarding the number and layers of local government and how they operate? The results are striking. As someone who has been immersed in this issue for more than 10 years, it’s really heartening to learn that this topic resonates with business leaders and that you believe there ARE steps we can take to grow business here in Illinois.

Results from the Survey

What’s the greatest impediment you find when doing business locally? Chamber members answered with: property taxes, duplication, length of time for processing, waste and inefficiency, bureaucracy. These are the enemy of a lean, cost-effective government model. So we agree! Could greater local government efficiency improve your business operations? Most, nearly ¾ of respondents answered YES. What’s the number one concern of your business regarding the number and layers of local government and how they operate? Chamber members answered with: too many layers and units, procurement process too complicated, duplicative services that are confusing, unsustainability of layers, and too many taxing bodies. I also want to share some of the comments made on the survey: “Collapsing and consolidating local governments would be a great step forward. LaSalle County has 26 school superintendents, which is too much overhead.” “The entrenched bureaucracy is cumbersome and often adversarial to the business community.” “If there were a way for some sort of statewide initiative to be put in place to teach municipalities how to operate efficiently…” Well, that is where DuPage County comes in. In 2013, DuPage County passed a bill that allowed us to pursue local government consolidation among a few appointed smaller government bodies in our county. The idea was that DuPage would serve as a laboratory of sorts. We’d see if, and how, consolidation would work toward reducing the size, scope and cost of local government. We created a scorecard, but we didn’t just keep track of consolidation. Believe it or not, in Illinois, it’s much, much easier to create a local government than to dissolve one. I know, I’ve dissolved three and have the scars to prove it! Our scorecard tracks all of the savings we’ve accumulated when we stopped short of consolidation, but strived for simplification, collaboration, reducing unnecessary layers and utilizing technology to make service more convenient and more timely. The results? Here in DuPage County our ACT Scorecard totals up to more than $100 million in projected savings that local taxpayers will realize. We heard business owners and taxpayers who told us – “Yes, we care about consolidation, but most importantly, we just want our government to work better and cost less.” So we’ve created this blueprint, a model for the rest of the state. How we have streamlined government in DuPage County Let me give you a few examples of how we have streamlined in DuPage. These examples are easily replicated locally or statewide. Prudent Financial Stewardship My favorite example of government savings is a story we told to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor when they joined us in Elmhurst to announce the formation of a statewide task force to study local government consolidation. The news conference announcing the task force was held at the DuPage Water Commission. Where, thanks to careful management and prudent financial stewardship, the quarter-cent sales tax consumers pay to fund that agency is being eliminated in 2016. That’s right; we’re putting tax dollars back in consumers’ pockets. The Water Commission paid back loans early, saving DuPage water customers $10 million in interest and finance charges. Consumers will save another $33 million annually in sales tax as the utility stands on its own and becomes self-sustaining. They streamlined their services and looked for opportunities that would produce savings yielding service that costs consumers less. Government Consolidation In the area of government consolidation, there’s one duplicative layer of government we were able to eliminate this past spring. Our DuPage legislative caucus led the way to eliminate the DuPage Fair Authority, an appointed body which only existed to pass state funds through to the DuPage Fair Association, which actually works to put the fair on. That’s one gone. We’ve also eliminated the Fairview Fire District and the Timberlake Estates Sanitary districts, both of which actually provided no service to citizens, but merely existed on paper. Collaboration I think one of the best local examples of collaboration is Choose DuPage, which I believe represents a really innovative model for county economic development. Choose DuPage is the public-private partnership charged with retaining and expanding our diverse business base while attracting new business investment to our county. More than 50% of Choose DuPage’s budget comes from contributions from businesses like yours. Choose DuPage reported that last year there were 118 new business projects that located in DuPage County, (projects include investments of more than a $1 million, at least 20,000 sq/ft, or more than 50 jobs created). That’s a 15% increase from the previous year. To put that number in perspective, DuPage saw more new business projects locate here than located in Kane, Will and Lake Counties combined. And, we had four times the amount that located in northwest Indiana’s four counties. Some additional proof that our business-friendly philosophy is bearing fruit includes:
  • Strength in the employment sector – two years ago, I stood here and told you our unemployment rate was 8.1%. Last year, I reported a rate of 5.5%. Today, our unemployment rate in DuPage is just 5.1%, more than a full point lower than Cook County.
  • Increased tourism – the DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that 2014 was a record year for tourism in the county. Tourism was responsible for more than $40 million in local tax receipts. This represents a more than 4.5% increase over 2013.
  • Increased sales tax revenue – DuPage County sales tax revenue is up, and projected to grow at a steady 4.8% rate through fiscal 2016.
  • A Triple A Bond Rating – DuPage retains its Triple A Bond rating from all three rating agencies. Fewer than 1% of counties in the U.S. enjoy this status.
We’ve accomplished all of this, and put forth a Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan without yet having a final budget from Springfield. In fact, I believe I may be the first DuPage County Board Chairman challenged with putting together a budget without knowing what the state funding stream looks like. That said, I salute Governor Rauner and lawmakers who seek to put Illinois on more solid financial ground. For too long our state’s budget has been out of balance and our long-term obligations ignored or mismanaged. I said it before the election and I believe it today – State budget reform is needed. It will be painful. We must all contribute. Once the dust settles in Springfield, I believe a “new normal” will emerge. The ability to be nimble, do more with less, cooperate, collaborate, and enjoy economies of scale will be of increasing importance to local governments. So while we wait together to see how the economic blanks are filled in by the State legislature, I want to circle back to the survey data I told you about from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. As you recall, one of the survey respondents discussed their desire for a statewide initiative to teach local governments how they could streamline and work smarter. Well, to that respondent I say, great minds think alike! Just about a year ago, I gathered a group of civic leaders, non-profits and legislators. We created a coalition dedicated to making government work better in Illinois. Each of you is invited on November 2nd to join us at University of Illinois at Chicago, where we will discuss successes and challenges we all face as we work toward government consolidation and streamlining. At the event, we will introduce you to some award-winning individuals and their efforts to make local government more efficient and effective. We’ll also outline the goals of our group, which we are calling Transform Illinois. As I wrap up, please let me share that amidst all the uncertainty we hear about coming from Springfield, a few things that I know for sure. I know DuPage County leads. Together, we have prioritized a balanced budget and held a line on property taxes. I know this continues to be our philosophy despite the fact that we will likely see changes in the state funding landscape. I know we’ve been planning for this. While others have been spending past their revenue streams, over the last few years, we’ve developed ways to reduce expenditures and create permanent savings. I know DuPage County will continue to be a regional and statewide leader, with a focus on serving its citizens’ needs in the most effective, cost-efficient manner possible. DuPage County will proudly remain as example of what is right in government for the rest of Illinois.