Tuesday, April 19, 2016

State Legislators don't support Collaboration on Consolidation of local governments

Where is the Beef? Last year when we finally got some traction on Centralizing Assessments in Lake County to save our taxpayers 4.4 million dollars I was hoping to get State Legislation rolling in the spring of 2015. At a minimum I was expecting to get discussions rolling with our State legislators like Melinda Bush, Ed Sullivan, Terry Link and Sam Yingling.... Then in the Fall of 2015 getting legislation on the table that would start the ball rolling for reform by referendum. While legislators initially seemed supportive, they virtually have done nothing to work with us or support progressive governmental ideas.

While it seemed intriguing shortly after we scheduled discussions at our RRL Committee that Melinda Bush offered some legislation (not at our request) to allow some action on the subject, she immediately crashed and burned with her ill (non) advised Senate Bill. After a surprise that this Senate Bill was in committee, those of us on the County Board tried to  get her to understand the complexities of this matter so that it would benefit the citizens, reduce the cost of government, and have a chance of working. But as soon as it was catapulted by Senator Bush into the abyss it was all over. During the current fiasco of state budget nonsense we had no idea a new bill was on the catapult, again without our knowledge or input.

After the Bush Senate Bill rocket crashed and burned I had several promising emails, texts, and calls with Sen. Bush on the subject of government efficiencies and specifically starting with Centralized Assessments. By then we had published our Lake County report that showed our current Lake County Assessment system was from the age of the dinosaurs and that in fact we could save 4.4 million dollars for our taxpayers with the modern Centralized County approach.

While I was promised Sen. Bush would work with me (us) to collaborate on the specifics of a new Senate bill that would work for Centralized Lake County Assessments, I never received any further contacts from her even though I reached out several times. The only thing I can assume is that the kitchen got way too hot for her from Townships and there was really no intention by her to accomplish real reform. Her motivation it seems was simply to make a compelling headline.

Upon publishing our report that would eliminate all the 18 Township Assessors offices and consolidate operations under the County we (Lake County) reached out to our Township officials and Assessors for them to come in one on one and in groups to comment and debate the merits of the draft report we put on the table. We were excited that the staff and elected township folks participated with us in about a dozen meetings and conversations. However, they never put together a comprehensive rebuttal report that challenged the facts in our March 2015 report from Lake County as they had requested as the next step.

At our last County Board discussion on assessments in the summer of 2015 the Assessors promised to have a response and report for us in a few months. Here we are in April of 2016 almost 8 months later and there has been no report, no meetings, and absolutely no response to the report we put out showing that there would be a 4.4 million dollar savings to taxpayers if we had a Centralized Assessment System in Lake County. The reason the Assessors can get away with this political burial of the Centralized Assessments lies directly at the feet of our State Legislators.

Now on this past Monday came Sen Bush and Morrison that held a press conference at our Permitting Center in Libertyville. The new legislation and packet of Senate Bills they unveiled came to a complete surprise to me and the township folks. Eight months of total silence on an issue that we were willing/needed to collaborate on with our state legislators. Instead they blindside us and simply decide to send up another media flare without doing the homework needed for successful legislation. It is like all these people know how to do is send up media flares hoping for a good political spin for the next election. Really Senators! No talk, no homework, and no collaboration means no results.

Hey I am on my last eight months on the County Board and I am still willing to push this collaboration on consolidation if some of these folks are willing to work on it. But the reality is when one election is over these folks concentrate on money and support for the next one until they are tossed out or get their pensions. Real positive governmental change is just not palatable to these political animals.

While I am heading off stage left into the wings, I wish everybody sticking around the best of luck in finding sustainable solutions for our citizenry. But I will tell you that unless folks step up and push hard for change, get ready to start forking up more taxes and fees to PAY the BEAST.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Transparency and Honest Government Demands Tax Referendums in November

I was sitting in a meeting the other day with a bunch of fine well meaning folks that work hard for our community. We agreed about the lack of transparency in County government by not having committee meetings recorded and the ability of anyone to view the on goings and discussions that occur.

Over the years in local government I have championed transparency. I have always promoted the citizens voices to be part of the conversation. That not only includes us opening avenues for them to travel on a transparent system but also to market and promote that system so it is used. The objective is to have our citizens not only educated about the process, but also to be part of the process where their voice is a constant integration that produces a well discussed result.

In our last election that included Presidential candidates we had a pretty good representation and voter turn out. A 112 school referendum which I opposed was turned down by a 2 to 1 margin. People are angry about taxes and the constant large money demands of governmental agencies in the name of quality services. It has become offensive to many. Politicians and governmental staff just don't seem to realize how oppressive these large tax bills are on the citizens.

As we look into elections currently with massive statistical analysis driving our words and strategies, we must also not lose sight of our values of true democracy as we passionately drive the nail home.

In Illinois we have 3 types of elections: General (in November), Primary (in March), and the Consolidated (in April). The amount of participation ranges from about 20% of registered voters in the Consolidated to over 70% in some Generals. The trick in elections is to get YOUR VOTERS to the polls on election day. Only 10% of citizens need to support your referendum or candidate if you can get them to the polls during an election where 19% show up to vote. And there lies the problem where issues and candidates can be successful against the will of the community at large.

During the last consolidated election there was virtually no opposition to many offices up for election and voter turn out was low. Governmental organizations like school districts have the ability to market their plan in the terms of "Education" to those voters and can drive them to the polls in a small turn out election. If in fact the community really felt a referendum is truly needed it would not matter when it would be held on the election calendar. The bottom line is that if they know the majority of citizens in Highland Park will not support a huge referendum the only way to pass it is by disenfranchising a great majority of voters. This is a purposeful act that has been successfully driven by politicians and school districts for years. If you don't have kids or grand kids in schools, not up on community chatter, or not being driven by national political ads that scare the crap out of you, one might not focus and prioritize the need to go and vote in a consolidated election in April. Statistics don't lie! A quarter or less of our registered voters do not go vote in these Consolidated elections and that is what politicians that want big tax increases depend on.

The idea that these are very complex issues and leaders have been elected to make these decisions does not justify disenfranchising folks that don't go to the polls in April elections. Shame on them if they believe they have a better chance to pass a tax referendum at a low vote turnout but will lose in a large general.

I am suggesting that referendums that increase our tax levy over the tax cap be required to only be on the ballot in the General Election. If one would need to be passed in a consolidated election for an emergency I would propose that it only be successful if a 2/3rds vote is achieved. People talk about transparency and getting citizen involvement in the decision making process. Lets be real and not try to circumvent the majority of citizens by holding tax referendums in elections when they don't vote. November General Elections should be the only times that tax referendums can be passed with a simple majority.