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Cook County panel calls for end to unincorporated areas

Monday, April 30, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Unincorporated Cook County would go away, annexed into the county's already existing municipalities, if a task force that's been studying the issue for Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle gets its way.

In a report released Monday morning, the task force did not set a timetable for action, and tacitly conceded there is no easy way to force the roughly 100,000 persons who live in unincorporated areas to join cities or villages and begin paying their taxes, or to force the municipalities to annex them.

Ms. Preckwinkle, too, conceded that the issue is "complicated and controversial." However, she added, "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 report urges "immediate" action in some areas, including asking municipalities to annex unincorporated parcels with fewer than 100 residents, improving building-code enforcement in unincorporated territory and getting a better handle on spending by Sheriff Tom Dart to patrol unincorporated areas.

"Near term" action is suggested for parcels with more than 100 residents, the report finds, but could be expedited by adopting "fee for service" models for those who resist incorporation but still get services.

Long term, the report concedes that some annexation may be infeasible. But intergovernmental pacts to share costs should be pursued, and all major new construction in unincorporated areas must meet minimum standards.

The panel was chaired by business and civic activist King Harris, and included a range of county commissioners and financial experts.

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