Chairman of the Kane County Board since 1971, Elfstrom is treasurer and immediate past president of the Urban Counties Council of Illinois. He has served on the Kane County Board since 1969 and holds a B.A. from the University of Kentucky.

A field administrator for the Urban Counties Council of Illinois, under a grant from the Lilly Endowment and administered by the National Association of Counties, Smith served as an elected member of the Champaign County Board from May 1972 until May 1974. He holds a B.S. in economics and an M.A. in social science From the University of Illinois.

The authors acknowledge reliance on a paper, "Illinois Local Government Under the 1970 Constitution." by Thomas D. Wilson (Normal, Ill.), Division of Continuing Education and Public Services, Illinois State University, 1975.

County government in transition

EDITOR'S NOTE: Observations in this article have more direct application to the urbanized counties of the state than they do to less populated counties, but the article does not attempt to review developments in Cook County.

OVER A PERIOD of time the position of counties as the fundamental unit of local government has been usurped by the cities. Counties continue to operate along the same lines as they did in the nineteenth century.

Currently, however, there are several indications that county government is becoming a brighter star in the Illinois local government galaxy. The major catalysts of change have been (1) the reapportionment impact on the composition of county boards that was first felt in 1972; (2) the opportunities made available by the new Illinois Constitution (though counties have been somewhat slow in pursuing their opportunities); and (3) new federal and state government policies affecting local governments.

Effective in 1972, the size of most county boards was significantly reduced, though boards still remain fairly large. A few had been as large as 50 members and many still consist of 25 to 29 members. But there are 17 commission counties whose boards have been and still are composed of three elected commissioners. Boards now generally represent the county constituency on a one person, one vote basis. Some counties—Kane for example—have set up single-member districts for board elections. As a consequence, standards of constituent accountability have been imposed on board members that are not experienced in counties which retain multiple-member districts.

The 1972 election brought in new board members whose orientation and attitudes differed significantly from those who served as "county supervisors" prior to 1972. A survey study conducted by Professor Thomas D. Wilson of Illinois State University concluded that compared to board members who served immediately prior to the 1972 election, those who were elected in 1972 were,

". . . more receptive to county reapportionment, to having the county provide urban type services to unincorporated areas, to having an elected county executive and/or a full-time appointed professional administrator for the county, to centralizing local welfare under a county-wide administrator and to combining township road districts. 'New' board members were also more receptive to the 1970 Illinois Constitution . . . including home rule, differential taxation, the combining or elimination of county offices and an extensive grant of power to engage in cooperative ventures with other units of local government." (Wilson, "ISU Reports on County Board Member Altitudes," Illinois County and Township Official, January 1974, p. 11-17.).

A great part of this change can be tied to the fact that Illinois county government since 1972 has not had the institutional linkage it once had to township government. Township supervisors no longer automatically serve concurrently on the county board. The link was not severed altogether, however, because many county board members continue to serve as township officials.* House Bill 1645 (P.A. 79-457), passed at the spring session, permits simultaneous holding of both offices for persons elected on or before 1977.

The new Constitution
Although adoption of the new Constitution has encouraged changes in Illinois county government in several ways, there are only a few examples of implementation of the Constitution's positive provisions by and among counties. The glamor of the new Constitution, particularly its home rule section, probably heightened interest and attracted candidates for the 1972 county elections. Most certainly, discussion of county related issues became more intense than before. Nine county home rule referenda were held in 1972, but all failed (see Illinois Issues, August 1975, p. 244).

Other changes were brought about because the Constitution took away from counties the collector's fee they received

*In an opinion to Jack Hoogasian, state's attorney. Lake County (S-877, 3/17/75}, Attorney General William Scott held the offices of township supervisor and county board member incompatible (see Illinois Issues, July 1975, p.219).

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Will the basic of local government of the Nineteenth Century rise phoenix-like to stature in the last decades of the Twentieth Century?

from other units of local government for property tax administration services. The fee had been an important source of revenue for counties, and its loss has caused counties to search for new sources of revenue and to become more conscious of their cost-effectiveness.

State and federal policies have also caused changes in Illinois county government. A few recent state developments have strengthened the position of county government, but county officials are becoming increasingly resentful of the tendency of the state to circumscribe their decision-making autonomy while simultaneously placing expenditure obligations on the counties. A case in point was a 1974 legislative decision requiring certain governments to bear a major part of the burden of judicial salary increases, but H.B. 437, passed at the spring session, will reverse this decision if signed into law by the governor. The federal government on the other hand, while making demands on local governments, has often offered counties the financial resources needed to carry out innovative programs: manpower and community development are recent examples.

Evidence of new vigor in Illinois county government can be seen in several areas including (1) revision of the internal governing structure of counties; (2) modernization of county administrative management; (3) expanded county service delivery; (4) new trends in county financing; and (5) new decision-making autonomy for counties. Where there are not concrete instances of change in these areas, there is at least lively discussion.

The upshot of revisions in the internal governing structure of counties is that county boards are becoming more assertive. The plural executive system still exists—with an elected clerk, sheriff, treasurer, coroner, state's attorney, etc., each with statutory executive authority in his own bailiwick—but it is fading. Several counties in 1972 passed referenda to abolish the office of coroner as an elective office, substituting an appointed officer. A referendum on the abolition of the elected recorder failed in Kane County in 1972, but county hoards in various counties are again considering referenda on the elimination or consolidation of certain elective offices in 1976. The elimination of these elective offices is largely the result of the 1970 Constitution (Article VII, section 4 (c)) which establishes only three elective county offices—sheriff, clerk and treasurer—and allows others to be elected or appointed by law or county ordinance. And even the offices of sheriff, clerk and treasurer may be eliminated, made appointive, or changed as to term by countywide referendum.

If the county board was not previously the most important entity in the constellation of county executive offices, in most instances it is now. County boards control the budgets of all county offices. Control of these purse strings is a formidable policy lever. Boards, particularly in the urbanized counties, have used their budgetary control as an instrument of management modernization, almost always with the lull cooperation of other elected officials. The centralization of a number of administrative services under the auspices of the board in some counties, while done to achieve cost savings, has also increased the authority of the county board itself. The kinds of functions being performed on a central service basis in many counties—others are sure to follow—include purchasing, personnel administration, data processing, microfilming, management and budget analysis, and grants administration.

Perhaps the most important development affecting the management modernization of Illinois counties and reinforcing the authority of the board within the county structure is the trend toward the establishment of professional staff support for county boards. While the majority of Illinois county hoards still lack even a secretary (other than the county clerk), a few have large support staffs directed by a person whose job description sounds like that of a "county manager." In 1972, Lake County established a department of management services, and at about the same time St. Clair County set up an office of administration. The directors of these departments in Lake and St. Clair supervise sizable professional staffs and have broad discretionary authority in administrative areas.

Several other counties, including DeKalb, DuPage, Kankakee, Madison, Me Lean, Peoria, Sangamon, Will and Winnebago, have at least one qualified person who serves full time as a general administrative aide to the county board. Most recently, Warren County (population 21,000) became the smallest county to retain a professional county board administrative assistant. Some of those counties that do not have an appointed general administrator have been able to call on elected officials to perform comparable duties. In both Kane and Tazewell counties, for instance, the elected auditor serves in many ways as an administrative assistant to the county board.

Assuming more roles
In addition to internal structural and administrative changes, Illinois counties are assuming an expanded service-delivery role, prompted by both local demands and federal funding incentives. More counties are becoming involved in public works programs although only a few have public works departments. Legislation passed at the spring session would allow counties to perform other municipal type public works services such as street lighting and sidewalk construction (H.B. 91).

Counties are also becoming leaders in tackling environmental problems. Several have begun developing solid waste disposal systems including sanitary landfills. The counties' participation in land use control through zoning and building regulation has a decided impact on the environment, and though there are still several counties without zoning codes, many have recently enacted zoning ordinances for the first time.

Social services is another area of activity. State and federal policies have encouraged community treatment for adult and juvenile offenders, for the mentally handicapped, and for dependent and neglected children. County governments have been called upon to develop innovative corrections and probation programs and to create systems of intervention designed to prevent juvenile crime. Funds from the

October 1975 / Illinois Issues / 307

The tone of progressive change in county government rings more clearly in chorus than it does in solo

federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration have offered strong incentives for innovations in these areas. Finally, counties have become interested in coordinating job training for targeted underemployed or unemployed individuals through the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) Manpower program. Illinois counties will, in effect, become "agencies" directly involved in attacking the problems of urban blight. The federal Community Development Act is a formula block grant program that combines a number of existing programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and designates five urban Illinois counties for formula entitlements, with all other counties eligible to apply for discretionary funds.

Short of money
Despite this impressive list, Illinois counties have had to exercise restraint in developing new services and programs because of their limited revenue base. In recent years counties have lost the fee for tax collection services, they have lost sizable personnel property tax revenue, and they continue to lose the base for their income and sales tax receipts as unincorporated areas are annexed into municipalities. Although revenue sharing and other federal funding programs have partially compensated for the losses, counties are now far weaker fiscally than they were four years ago. Additionally, because of inflation, federal aid in real dollars to counties actually decreased nationally by nearly 3 per cent in 1974. A cursory study by the Urban Counties Council of Illinois in the summer of 1974 indicated that the general funds of 11 of 18 counties surveyed were in the red.

Short of money, counties have asked for a distribution of sales and income taxes that recognizes that counties serve incorporated as well as unincorporated areas. They have also sought permission to raise court fees—which now fall far short of covering the costs of judicial administration—and permission to levy a motor vehicle tax countywide. There has been no legislative enactment of any of these proposals, but the direction counties have taken in their legislative requests indicates a recognition that the property tax is outmoded and that more elastic revenue sources must be found.

As the debate over the property tax grows, county government will be more and more in the spotlight. Because counties are responsible for collection of the property tax, they often receive the blame for the inequities of the tax, a blame that is in important respects misplaced. Counties are hardly responsible for the high levels of the tax. In 1972 (the most recent year for which complete statistics are available) they received only 8.5 per cent of all property tax collections in the state while 58 per cent went to the schools. Inequities in assessments are partly the responsibility of county governments because they are supposed to insure fairness within each county. But, it is also the responsibility of the townships, which do the initial assessing, and the state Department of Local Government Affairs, which is required to equalize assessment levels among counties. A special joint legislative subcommittee (the "Clarke Property Tax Subcommittee"—see "Politics of equalizing the property tax," Illinois Issues, June 1975, p. 179ff) has proposed procedural reforms, some of which may be on the legislative agenda for years to come. One likely end result is that county government will carry more responsibility in the future for assuring assessment equity.

The home rule question
Of all of the changes in county government in Illinois, none is likely to be more significant than the desires of some counties for more independence in decision-making. The home rule question will probably be on the ballot in 1976 in some counties and in the next decade will most certainly be a major issue in the urbanized counties. Chances for passage should be much greater in 1976 than in 1972 when home rule was new and unknown in Illinois. Now there has been a substantial number of legal decisions which have reasonably defined home rule powers. The necessary change in county government in order to acquire home rule is passing a referendum to create the elective office of count) chief executive (Constitution, Art. VIII, sec. 6(a)). Counties that approach the home rule question properly will have time to employ citizen study groups to explore the questions of county government reorganization.

Other new powers
Even without home rule, the new Constitution has given counties a degree of autonomy. The constitutional authority granted local governments to enter into intergovernmental agreements has definitely increased their powers. One interpretation of the intergovernmental cooperation provision of the Constitution suggests that local units may "piggyback" powers through interlocal agreements. For example, a county might take on certain specific powers of a home rule municipality through an appropriate service agreement with such a municipality. The 1970 Constitution also offers counties (and municipalities) an innovative means of financing certain services (Art. VII, sec. 7). Under this provision, a county may establish a special services area, with an added tax in only that area for the special service provided, but no county government has established such an area. This new provision means that county government can provide a new service to an area without taxing the entire county. It is also an alternate to the pyramid of special taxing districts.

It should be noted that the tone of progressive change in county government rings more clearly in chorus than it does in solo. In no single county is the breadth of depth of transformation as great as that described in this article. Barriers remain.

County government is not yet highly visible to the citizenry, but in the face of the proliferation of state and federal bureaucratic management regions it seems possible that voters will take an increasing interest in county government. Counties are in a sense already "regions," regions whose decisions voters can measurably control. As a New Jersey local government study commission concluded, "Even if county government had not existed in the Anglo-American structure it would have to be invented now." 

308 / Illinois Issues / October 1975

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