Voters consider consolidation and open space measures
On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, suburban voters in the seven-county CMAP region turned out for municipal, township, school district, fire district, park district, and library district elections. CMAP monitors initiatives that affect the region's implementation of GO TO 2040, which in this election included ballot measures to let localities pursue consolidation, increase open space in our region, and mitigate urban flooding. Voters' decisions on these local issues are also informative as CMAP develops the region's next comprehensive plan, ON TO 2050.
Local government consolidation
GO TO 2040 recommends that local governments explore appropriate ways to coordinate or consolidate services, including both overlapping and neighboring jurisdictions, to better deliver public services at reduced costs. GO TO 2040 notes that there is no standard or optimal form of local government because each community has its own unique challenges and assets.
Since the plan's adoption in 2010, there has been legislative interest in local government consolidation at the state level. Newly enacted state statutes have expanded local governments' ability to consolidate or eliminate districts, in some cases requiring local voters' approval. In the April 4 election, more than 92 percent of voters in Milton Township in DuPage County approved a measure that will enable their mosquito abatement district to pursue intergovernmental agreements with Glen Ellyn and Wheaton. And in Addison Township, also in DuPage, about 85 percent of voters approved a measure to pursue consolidation of unelected township positions.
Multiple referenda focused on consolidating or eliminating township road districts, which are separate units of government. In Hanover Township in northwest Cook County, 58 percent of voters approved a referendum to abolish the township road district on January 1, 2018, and delegate its functions to the overall township government. In DuPage County, 57 percent of voters in Naperville Township and 55 percent in Lisle Township approved a merger of their township road districts. Past CMAP research has illustrated how township road networks are often discontinuous in many parts of the region.
Expanding open space
GO TO 2040 established a significant land protection goal of 400,000 acres of permanently protected conservation open space. As of 2015, the region has conserved approximately 260,000 acres, with nearly 80 percent of land preservation funds coming from local sources, namely municipal and county referenda for open space acquisition and enhancement. Since 2008, open space referenda have been rare, and subsequently, funding for land acquisition has dropped significantly. Combined with funding declines at the state and federal level, the region has not kept pace to reach GO TO 2040 targets.
However, the successful passage on April 4 of Kane County Forest Preserve District's $50 million land acquisition and improvement referendum may signal a change in this trend. Approximately 54 percent of voters approved a referendum that will help acquire an additional 2,000 acres of land and provide funding for capital improvements to Forest Preserve District land holdings. Future land acquisitions will focus on expanding and connecting existing holdings, which creates operational efficiencies and builds better connected habitats to support wildlife. CMAP has been exploring land protection trends in the region as well as strategies to strengthen natural land protection and stewardship as part of the ON TO 2050 planning process.
With climate change, the region is seeing stronger, more frequent storms along with a corresponding increase in flooding damages to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Reducing flooding damages will require a variety of approaches tailored to specific communities, which could include infrastructure upgrades, changes in development standards, and open space acquisition. On April 4, Franklin Park put forward an advisory referendum to gauge the level of community support for property acquisition within the floodway, where development is acutely at risk to severe damages from flooding. Approximately 60 percent of voters supported the concept of using grant funds to establish a property acquisition program. Property acquisition has been used elsewhere to provide open space and allow for flood storage. As part of the ON TO 2050 planning process, CMAP is exploring strategies to reduce flooding damages.
Across the region, voters moved to implement GO TO 2040 goals such as local government consolidation, service sharing, open space acquisition, and flooding protection. Moving forward, local governments will need to continue to identify strategies to address funding constraints and prepare for a changing climate. Ballot referenda are one of several means for implementing policy change at the local level, and can help the most locally desired and appropriate reforms. As part of the ON TO 2050 plan development process, CMAP and its partners are working to further refine recommendations to address funding constraints and prepare for climate change, as well as determining what actions will be necessary to implement them across the region.