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Secession isn't way to solve area's woes

Monday, October 25, 2004
Daily Southtown

The mayors of Blue Island and Alsip have placed a nonbinding referendum question on the Nov. 2 ballot, asking voters whether their communities should secede from Cook County.

Donald Peloquin of Blue Island and Arnold Andrews of Alsip say they're fed up with being overlooked and underserved by Cook County government. They're hoping to convince their constituents they would be better off as part of a new, smaller county, comprising 55 south suburban communities running from the Stevenson Expressway to the Indiana border, and from the Chicago city line south to Will County.

If their communities vote in favor of the idea, Peloquin and Andrews will try to persuade residents of the other 53 towns to join the effort, which would require the approval of the majority of Cook County voters in a referendum at some future date.

As we've said before, we understand the frustration Peloquin and Andrews feel toward county government, but we don't see secession as the solution. A big problem for many south suburbs is the lack of thriving business and commercial bases, which leaves local governments chronically short of money. Taking some of the poorest towns in Cook County and separating them from the county's most thriving communities isn't going to solve the money shortage.

What it would do is move the region's needs from the bottom of the Cook County priority list to the top of the new county's list.

Peloquin argues the new county would instantly become the third largest county in Illinois in terms of population, so it would be a political entity to reckon with right from the start.

But with a million people or so, Lincoln County, as its proponents refer to it, would not benefit much from the "streamlining" its proponents envision.

Of course, part of what's going on here is an effort by Peloquin, a Republican, and Andrews, who says he is an independent, to embarrass the Democratic leadership of Cook County. And the party leadership needs to hear the message.

What the south suburbs need is not secession but a responsive Cook County government. The politicians in power, from county board President John Stroger through the members of the county board and including Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, need to recognize the dissatisfaction that is prompting the secession effort. They need to see that it is not just partisan politics but is rooted in an unfair, out-of-date property tax system. That system is a big burden on property owners and continues to drive businesses out of the area.

But that problem would only become worse for "Lincoln County" than it is today for south Cook.

A better solution than secession would be to elect a Cook County government that would serve the Southland's needs, beginning with finding a way to rebuild the area's industrial base and fixing its unfair property tax system.

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