Lake County Board chairman talks consolidation, sharing services with McHenry County Board

WOODSTOCK – McHenry and Lake counties in the early years of Illinois statehood were one entity until lawmakers split them.

They still shared many things together, such as a combined judicial circuit, but over time those services split.

But with taxpayers in both counties now suffering under one of the highest property tax burdens in the nation, courtesy of hundreds of local units of government, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor told the McHenry County Board that the time has come to explore once again sharing services.

“The question really becomes, what do we want to work together on, now that we don’t necessarily have to work together on so many things, because we should,” Lawlor told board members.

Lawlor was invited to speak at Thursday morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting by McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, to talk consolidation, shared services and other issues. Franks described Lawlor, who was 30 when the Lake County Board chose him as chairman in 2012, as “one of the most promising young public leaders in Illinois.”

He also, like DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and Franks during his 18 years as a state representative, is one of the most vocal proponents for whittling down Illinois’ almost 7,000 units of local government – by far the largest number of all 50 states.

Local governments’ ability to consolidate, either willingly or by fiat, still is extremely limited under state law.

A pilot program in DuPage County – which state lawmakers expanded to the McHenry and Lake county boards at Franks’ and Lawlor’s requests – allows the boards to eliminate a handful of vestigial and eclectic units of local government.

But Lawlor called those “low-dollar affairs” – right now, he said, more money can be saved by local governments pooling their resources to share services.

“Whenever we move toward a discussion on consolidation, invariably you get sucked into a debate on who has what tax rate and what debt, and who’s going to pay for that, and it kind of drags the conversation down. So focusing on our ability to really drive consolidation in effect through shared services is incredibly promising,” Lawlor said.

While Lake County and others have started encouraging local units of government to share resources, Lawlor and Franks have begun talking up inter-county cooperation, as well. Ideas have ranged from pooling together on salt services to exploring whether both counties can share a hired medical examiner rather than two elected coroners.

“I’m really excited about partnering, because I think we can share ideas and do things together,” said Franks, who led one consolidation task force and participated in another under two separate governors.

But while Lawlor during his 30-minute discussion trumpeted Lake County’s achievements on the issue, he also praised McHenry County for leading the way on consolidating 911 service.

While Lake County has about 20 emergency telephone service boards, McHenry County has one.

Lawlor said following McHenry County’s example would save Lake County taxpayers about $10 million a year.

County Board members asked Lawlor about Lake County issues, such as the fate of the Route 53 corridor, transitioning to an elected chairmanship like McHenry County did, and the advantages of having single-member county board districts.