Plan Would Eliminate Unincorporated Cook County

May 02, 2012

Do you live in metro Chicago real estate located in an unincorporated section of Cook County? You might not for long.

A task force created by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to get rid of the unincorporated areas of the county to save money.

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Last year, Preckwinkle recommended charging each of the nearly 98,200 residents located in unincorporated Cook County about $150 to maintain such services as sheriff’s police patrols. The surcharge was never implemented, but a task force was created to find a solution for the financially strapped county.

This week, the Cook County Unincorporated Task Force, devised of elected and civic leaders, unveiled a plan in which neighboring towns and villages would annex the county’s unincorporated lands into their borders and cover the costs of key residential services.

While only 6.5 percent of Cook County’s 945 square miles are unincorporated, there are hundreds of small parcels throughout the county that amount to about 62 square miles of unincorporated land.

Many unincorporated areas don’t have sidewalks, curbs, gutters, street lights, even sewage and water lines. Municipalities are concerned they would have to foot the bill for such infrastructure improvements; unincorporated residents are worried their property taxes would go up.

Task force members have agreed to serve an additional six months to try to figure out two of the largest road blocks in annexing the unincorporated areas: Police services and housing issues, but if all goes as planned, there will be no more unincorporated areas of Cook County within the next decade.

“I am grateful to the Task Force for its hard work tackling a complicated and controversial issue,” said President Preckwinkle. “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.”

Among the task force’s recommendations:

Immediate goals:

*Encourage municipalities to annex unincorporated parcels smaller than 60 acres or with less than 100 residents.

*Improve code enforcements since substandard building conditions are a significant barrier to annexation.

*Better define what police services are provided county-wide and only in unincorporated Cook.

*Seek funding from local foundations and other resources to assist with annexation.

In the near future:

*Begin annexation on parcels larger than 60 acres or with more than 100 residents.

*Find a way to fully cover the costs of providing services to unincorporated Cook County.

Long-term goals:

*Where annexation proves to be infeasible, explore entering into intergovernmental agreements with adjoining municipalities for specific services.

*Ensure that no new major construction occurs in unincorporated areas that does not meet common municipal standards.

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