While the DuPage County Board may have the authority to invoke home rule, it’s uncertain if divided leaders will ever get to that point.Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, though, pushed board members Tuesday to think seriously about the option.
Home rule would give the county additional powers of regulation and taxation it lacks now.
“If we were to be home rule, we would be faithful stewards of taxpayer dollars. If we fail to do this, we won’t be returned to office. That’s the ultimate check and balance,” Schillerstrom said during a presentation on the county’s financial picture for the first two quarters.
Earlier, Springfield attorney Kurt Froehlich, an expert on municipal and government law, told finance committee members the power to enact home rule could lie in their own hands.
The Illinois Constitution states a county, such as Cook, with a chief executive officer and more than 25,000 people is a home rule unit. By changing Schillerstrom’s status from chairman to CEO, the county could qualify as home rule, although it likely would face a court challenge.
“If you adopt an executive form of government, home rule goes along with it,” Froehlich said.
Not everyone in the audience was convinced.
“It’s a novel legal theory, but it’s never going to be adopted by any court in Illinois,” said board member Brien Sheahan, who has argued the county needs to cut expenditures before adding new taxes. “It seems a bit of a lark.”
Others argued if the county adopts home rule, it should be achieved by asking voters through a referendum.
“I’m in favor of home rule, but I worry about the way we get to it,” board member Grant Eckhoff said.
Board member Jim Healy also contended, “you cannot make yourself home rule by legislative change or judicial fiat.”
Froehlich is the second expert Finance Committee Chairman Patrick O’Shea has brought in to testify about home rule and he promised a few more.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the committee to decide,” O’Shea said.
In his budget update, Schillerstrom said the county had dipped into its cash balances to keep pace with spending of $65 million compared to revenues of $55 million as of May 31 in the corporate fund.
Low sales tax receipts, declining real estate transfer taxes due to the flagging housing market and delays in state payments are hurting the county, he said.
Another expense has been a rise in payouts to departing employees. In addition to vacation pay, the county reimburses exiting employees for accumulated sick days.
“We’ve got a very large outlay in terms of accrued benefits. Demands for payouts are skyrocketing,” Schillerstrom said, adding many qualified staff members are leaving because of budget uncertainties.