December 11, 2014
The Civic Federation’s recent report profiling unincorporated areas in six townships within Cook County examines issues related to annexing unincorporated areas. Based on interviews conducted with various stakeholders involved in a decision to incorporate a previously unincorporated area in Cook County, the Federation was able to start to identify some of the problems that must be considered if incorporation is pursued as well as benefits that might accrue to residents and businesses in currently unincorporated areas.
For the purposes of its research the Civic Federation defined stakeholders as residents, homeowners’ associations and businesses located in the unincorporated area, municipalities bordering unincorporated areas, and other local governments providing services to the unincorporated areas such as townships and Cook County government.
The barriers municipalities perceive that would make annexing the unincorporated areas adjacent to their borders difficult can be classified in two sets of issues.
1) The projected financial impact of annexation on municipal budgets:
- Increased personnel and equipment costs needed to meet the increased demand for expanded municipal services, such as police, fire, public works and building and zoning services;
- Expansion of fire protection and emergency services;
- Improvements to the storm and sanitary sewer infrastructure;
- Improvements to the municipal water system infrastructure to supply all of the areas with a municipal water source; and
- Installation of sidewalks, streetlights, curbs and gutters in the unincorporated areas.
2) The perceived incompatible quality and character of the unincorporated areas compared to the municipalities:
- Less restrictive building codes;
- Less restrictive building design standards;
- Less restrictive rental property regulations;
- Larger parcels of land on average; and
- Less restrictive liquor control laws.
Unincorporated Residents and Home Owners' Associations
Issues residents see as barriers to annexation include:
- Increased property taxes;
- Increased water and sewer rates and fees;
- More restrictive building and code enforcement standards; and
- A change in the “rural” character of their neighborhoods.
Issues businesses see as barriers to annexation include:
- Increased property taxes;
- Increased water and sewer rate charges; and
- An uncertain change in business licensing requirements and regulations.
The biggest problem surrounding annexation identified by all types of stakeholders was uncertainty regarding the increased financial burden taxpayers and municipal governments might incur. However, residents and businesses in unincorporated areas as well as some municipal officials were able to identify benefits that could come with annexation. The chart below describes some of those benefits and summarizes the barriers to annexation.