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Highland Park kick starts discussion of government consolidations

Updated: June 18, 2013 7:36AM

Searching for ways to give residents a better bang for their tax dollar, Highland Park officials agreed Monday, May 13, to take a look at consolidating some overlapping governments.

Council member Paul Frank urged the formation of a short-term study group to look at whether some governments could or should be consolidated. The committee would look at services provided by the city of Highland Park, Moraine Township and the South Lake Mosquito Abatement District, and perhaps other local entities.

“I think we owe it to the community to have a full public discussion, particularly when it comes to two or three local government taxing bodies that have taxing authority …. but maybe are less transparent, less visible and less accessible to the public.”

Frank wondered if the committee would find services that the city could provide more efficiently, or conclude that it’s not cost effective.

“Or maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s not feasible,” said Frank. “I would just like to have the discussion.”

Mayor Nancy Rotering tasked the city attorney with researching legal issues upfront before taking on what could prove a pointless study. Nor did she want the city to be perceived as an adversary of other governments.

“Given that our 85-point task list has now grown into the 90s, I am not looking for the city to take on more,” said Rotering, speaking of the council’s list of goals for the city manager.

“If there are efficiencies to be had, that is one thing,” she continued. “To broaden the scope of city services is another conversation.”

City attorney Steven Elrod said it’s easy enough to research the legal issues if he knows the taxing bodies in question.

“I can tell you whether it would need to be done by referendum, by gubernatorial action or if it requires action by the state legislature,” he said.

Frank and Council member David Naftzger were asked to lead the study effort.

Barbara Lippai, president of the League of Women Voters of Highland Park and Highwood, said the league has studied the need for a separate township government several times over the past two decades and has considered taking another look. Lippai suggested a league member could participate on the study committee.

While the topic was listed as “Government Consolidation” on a committee agenda, some officials said the focus is more on accountability and transparency.

“Consolidation is certainly not the starting point of the conversation,” said Frank.

Added Naftzger: “I wouldn’t want to scare people off before the conversation even begins.”

In addition to Highland Park. Moraine Township includes Highwood and small portions of Lake Forest and Deerfield.

Highland Park also is analyzing other efficiencies, including sharing services between the city and the library, and a consolidation of fire dispatch functions with Lake Forest, Highwood and Lake Bluff.

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