(CHICAGO) A report released today by the Civic Federation provides a comprehensive examination of all unincorporated areas in Cook County. The full 221-page report, available here, builds extensively on a 2014 report and includes final recommendations on how the County can improve general management of unincorporated areas, work with local governments to improve future planning efforts and reduce the subsidy provided to unincorporated residents by all County taxpayers.
Approximately 2.4%, or 126,034, of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents live in unincorporated areas of the County and therefore do not pay taxes to a municipality. According to Civic Federation calculations, Cook County spends approximately $42.9 million annually in expenses related to the delivery of municipal-type services to unincorporated areas, including law enforcement, building and zoning and liquor control. Because the areas only generate $24.0 million toward defraying the cost of these special services, County taxpayers effectively pay an $18.9 million subsidy, even as they pay taxes for their own municipal services.
Because of the inequity and inefficiency of the current structure, the Civic Federation strongly supports a goal set by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her Cook County Unincorporated Task Force to eventually eliminate unincorporated areas in Cook County by incorporating them into neighboring municipalities.
“The unincorporated areas of Cook County represent a significant burden on County resources,” said Laurence Msall, President of the Civic Federation. “This report seeks to further stakeholders’ understanding of the impact of current practices while providing actionable recommendations to reduce the subsidy provided to unincorporated residents in the short term and totally incorporate them in the longer term.”
The result of nearly two years of analysis, the Federation’s report compiles information from the Cook County budget, Illinois statute, municipal budgets and dozens of stakeholder interviews as well as data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Cook County Geographic Information Systems Department and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Based on this analysis, the Civic Federation recommends that the County formally adopt a multi-year plan to eliminate all unincorporated areas. The Federation also urges the County to take steps in the near term to ease barriers to annexation, reduce the cost of subsidizing delivery of services to unincorporated areas and improve the quality of life for residents. A series of general, planning and revenue recommendations include establishing a designated ombudsman and liaison to handle unincorporated Cook County matters, preparing an annual report and website, cataloging publicly owned assets, requiring municipalities to establish boundary annexation agreements and establishing incident response fees, among others.
The full report also contains detailed profiles on the County’s many unincorporated areas, including demographics, maps, photographs, information on land use, data on the value of taxable property by class and estimates of property tax bill changes for selected unincorporated residential tax codes if they were annexed into neighboring municipalities.
A grant from the Chicago Community Trust made the research and writing of this report possible.