DuPage Releases Stress Tests on E-911 Board, Airport Authority, Fire Protection Districts

More inefficiencies found in this final round, next steps include plan of action for reform, consolidation.

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Editors note: This information was provided by the public relations arm of the DuPage County Board.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin released the final round of “stress tests” of county departments Wednesday, May 9. Under the microscope in this latest search for waste and inefficiency were the DuPage Emergency Telephone System Board, DuPage Airport Authority and the fire districts of Fairview, Glenbard, Lisle-Woodridge, Naperville, North Westmont, Roselle, Warrenville, West Chicago and Yorkfield.
Analysis already has been performed on DuPage Housing Authority, Sheriff’s Merit Commission, the Election Commission, Water Commission and the sanitary districts of Downers Grove, Highland Hills, Salt Creek and Wheaton.
The stress test was initiated by Cronin last year, following financial crises at the Water Commission the DuPage Housing Authority.

“Although this represents the end of the reporting process, it is not the end of our work to reform local government,” Cronin, of Elmhurst, said in a prepared statement. “The information we’ve obtained over the last several months provides the insight required to make needed changes and ensure all public bodies operate efficiently, transparently and productively.”

The stress tests were initiated by Cronin last year to evaluate the financial and operational functions of 24 non-elected taxing bodies in DuPage. The agencies account for nearly $300 million in public funds and employ between 850 and 900 people.

The reports featured a thorough analysis by Crowe Horwath of the finances and operations of the 11 entities.
Fire Districts

Lisle-Woodridge, Warrenville and West Chicago serve as operating districts, as they have fire stations, equipment and fire protection and emergency medical personnel.

Fairview, Glenbard, Naperville, North Westmont, Roselle and Yorkfield are considered paper districts. They don’t have equipment or personnel, but they raise revenue through property taxes and pay a neighboring department for fire protection and emergency medical services.

Crowe Horwath predicts significant savings could be achieved for taxpayers if all of the county’s fire protection districts, including municipal fire departments, discussed consolidation, shared services and best practices.

Cronin credited a recent sharing of services between four local fire protection districts to a consortium that includes County Board member Grant Eckhoff, who has worked on this issue for more than three years. Eckhoff serves on the DuPage Mayors and Managers’ Fire Service Stakeholders Group, which recently worked with the fire districts of Carol Stream, West Chicago, Wheaton and Winfield to develop a shared service model.

The West Suburban Fire/Rescue Alliance officially formed earlier this year allowing the departments to share common resources, provide more cost-effective services and increase safety for response personnel by using common procedures. The Alliance plans to work on other initiatives, such as cooperative purchasing and resource sharing.

“We see encouraging signs of cooperation across the county in terms of sharing services and pooling resources,” Cronin said. “The county can play a vital role in seeking more productive partnerships among fire districts in the future.”

Two key examples that depict why these stress tests are important can be found in the Roselle and North Westmont Fire Protection Districts.

The Roselle FPD has an intergovernmental agreement with the Roselle Fire Department for fire and emergency medical services for more than 860 properties in unincorporated Roselle. The district failed to comply with the county ordinance and the assessment by Crowe Horwath. Through information obtained from the Illinois Comptroller’s Office, it appears the district overpaid its three trustees. Given its status as a paper district, with no direct full-time firefighting staff, the report suggests the district does not comply with the state statute and has overpaid its trustees $126,000 since 1991. Crowe Horwath suggests the financial mistake be fixed promptly.

The North Westmont FPD contracts with the Westmont Fire District to provide fire and emergency medical services for more than 560 properties. The report states the district pays Westmont a flat $5,000 a year for fire protection, not based on actual costs of service. In addition, the district’s budget includes $25,000 to purchase firefighting related equipment based on specific requests made by the Westmont Fire Department, such as the recent purchase of an ambulance.

The report says “the current model of paying significantly less than the stated cost of actual services, but then funding periodic equipment purchases lacks transparency” and it is difficult to tie the benefit use of the equipment back to the fire protection district.
Emergency Telephone System Board

The ETSB oversees the 911 systems for a majority of the county. The report suggested that “over the course of the last several years, ETSB has made good strides in improving the integration and leverage between the board and DuPage County.”

The report states the financial viability of the agency could come under question in April 2013, when a significant portion of its funding is set to expire. Currently, cellular phone users are charged a 73-cent surcharge through the Wireless Emergency Telephone System Act. That surcharge, approved by the Illinois General Assembly, will sunset next year. Without the funding, the agency would not be able to provide 911 related dispatch infrastructure, equipment and software.

Crowe Horwath suggests the County and ESTB work with state legislators to file and pass a bill that would continue the wireless surcharge. In the meantime, ETSB should draft a contingency plan that details the equipment and operational transitions required if the funding is eliminated.

Other suggestions for ETSB include staggering the seven board members’ terms to allow for more retention and sharing of services with the county through technology, human resources and finance.
DuPage Airport Authority

DuPage Airport Authority provides aviation facilities and service to the suburban Chicago area, including corporate, recreational, charter, local commuter and air cargo service.

The report states that over the last several years, the Authority has reduced its reliance on property taxes by earning more income from hanger leases, fuel sales, the DuPage Business Center and other airport related activities. In 1994, the Airport Authority levied $19 million in property taxes. In 2010, it levied $6.4 million and then abated $500,000 of the tax.

The report noted that the Airport Authority has been successful in saving approximately $200,000 annually by cutting two director and three management positions, eliminating employee car allowances, limiting employee holidays and adopting more strict hiring practices.

The Airport Authority has received several recognitions noting “excellence in operations,” including Top FBO in Chicagoland by Aviation International News in 2010; Airport of the Year by the Illinois Department of Transporation Aeronautics Division in 2011; a Model of Regional Airport Excellence by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2011; and the 2010 Excellence in Procurement Award from the Airport Consultants Council.

The Airport Authority also operates the Prairie Landing Golf Course, which has shown operating losses for four consecutive years. It is recommended that the Airport Authority generate a five-year financial and operating plan to address prior spending deficits in addition to repayment of funds borrowed from airport operations.
Next Steps

Now that the final reports have been released, Cronin plans to submit his proposal to implement needed reforms that could include the consolidation of agencies in his mission to make government smarter and leaner.

“DuPage County can serve as a laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t work in order to bring about true reform in local government. If we are successful, we will take a small, yet meaningful step toward fulfilling our taxpayers’ demands to reduce the size, scope and cost of government here in Illinois,” he said.

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