Evaluation of 24 DuPage County Agencies Continues, with Sanitary Districts
Catalyst for agency "stress tests" was the Housing Authority, but all agencies evaluated to determine if consolidation is needed or transparency should be increased.
Editors note: This information was provided by the public relations arm of the DuPage County Board.
Dan Cronin on Wednesday unveiled the latest round of “stress tests” for the DuPage Housing Authority, Sheriff’s Merit Commission and the sanitary districts of Downers Grove, Highland Hills, Salt Creek and Wheaton.
“As we dig deeper into all of these agencies, the importance and the necessity of this entire exercise becomes clearer," Cronin said. "These evaluations basically serve as a ‘stress test’ for each entity. The reports don’t just inform us about the current conditions of the agencies, but they also raise red flags identifying potential hazards that can be easily addressed now before drastic measures are required."
The stress test was initiated by Cronin last year, following the financial crises at the Water Commission and the DuPage Housing Authority. Through state legislation, DuPage County Board was provided the tools necessary to review the financial and operational structure of these independent agencies. The 24 taxing bodies under review, to which Cronin and the board appoint members, account for nearly $300 million in public funds.
The DuPage County Housing Authority is an example of how an embattled public agency can be reformed. Upon notification from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about financial mismanagement at the DuPage Housing Authority, Cronin dismissed top staff and the board of directors. New leadership was installed and reform efforts began to address compliance matters with HUD. Staff training focused on audit concerns and internal controls. The board also adopted new ethics, finance, travel, procurement and credit card policies.
While the DuPage Housing Authority was the catalyst of the agency assessments, Cronin said the county sanitary districts are key examples of why the stress tests are necessary. The report indicated that the four sanitary districts run the spectrum from being financially stable to approaching financial insolvency.
The reports recommend these districts gain efficiencies by sharing services through information technology, human resources, utility billing and collection, health insurance, laboratory services, construction and procurement.
The districts were also assessed individually.
The Downers Grove Sanitary District provides sanitary sewer service to more than 24,700 properties in portions of Downers Grove, Westmont, Woodridge, Lisle, Oak Brook and Darien. The district’s financial condition is “stable. Management has employed best business practices in managing its financial matters and has built reserves to help fund planned capital improvements.” The report recommends the district align its ethics policy with DuPage County’s policy to provide greater accountability and transparency.
The Highland Hills Sanitary District manages sanitary sewer service and water operations for nearly 500 properties in Lombard. The report states there are “significant concerns” regarding the sustainability of the district due to deficit spending and aging infrastructure. It is recommended Highland Hills consolidate with another entity to provide taxpayers with a more efficient and cost-effective service. Other recommendations include stabilizing the district’s financial condition, considering a rate increase, enhancing the ethics and credit card policies, increasing transparency and accountability by creating a website where residents can access meeting agendas, minutes and general information about the agency.
The Salt Creek Sanitary District provides sanitary sewer service to more than 7,500 properties in Villa Park. Over the last 10 years, the district has addressed many infrastructure issues paid for through federal and state grants, in addition to loans from the Illinois EPA. In order to create cost savings, the district has reduced trustee pay and benefits, eliminated positions, implemented more efficient systems and negotiated lower cost contracts. The report states the district is “stable, however it is showing indications of decline” through the erosion of the net assets in addition to the age of the property and plant. The report suggests a study be completed to determine whether consolidation or implementation of a shared services model is appropriate. Other recommendations include posting minutes and other information on the DuPage County website, implementing internal control policies and stabilizing the financial condition of the district
The Wheaton Sanitary District provides wastewater treatment for more than 18,000 properties located in Wheaton, Carol Stream, Glen Ellyn, Winfield, unincorporated areas of DuPage County, including the county complex. The district has maintained a “stable operation and has employed best practices to manage its operations and capital programs.” In addition, the district has explored a shared services option for utility billing with Wheaton that could potentially save $100,000 annually. It is recommended that the district implement the joint billing program with Wheaton. Other recommendations include improving its ethics and credit card policies.
The Sheriff’s Merit Commission manages the hiring, advancement and discipline of sheriff personnel. It is recommended the commission better coordinate human resources activities with the county’s Human Resources Department. Other recommendations include increasing accountability and transparency through regular communications with the public in addition to strengthening the ethics policy.
Cronin plans to release by early May the final reports on the DuPage Airport Authority, DuPage Election Commission, the Emergency Telephone System Board and the fire protection districts of Fairview, Glenbard, Lisle-Woodridge, Naperville, North Westmont, Roselle, Warrenville, West Chicago and Yorkfield.
Following the release of all 24 reports, Cronin will submit his proposal to implement needed reforms that could include the consolidation of agencies in his mission to make government smarter and leaner.
“These stress tests will provide an invaluable public benefit moving forward. We have the chance to learn about potential problems before they become full-blown crises,” said Cronin.