Three Townships Vote To Secede From Cook County, But Will They?

Anger over high sales taxes has driven voters in three Northwest suburbs to vote to secede from Cook County. Actually leaving the county will be another matter.

Referenda in Barrington, Hanover and Palatine Townships on whether or not to disconnect from Cook County, where the sales tax rate is the highest in the country, all passed overwhelmingly Tuesday, revealing the depth of unrest over the county's 1 percent sales tax increase in 2008.

"There's a lot of frustration out in our area that all we do is pay for Cook County and we don't get much back," state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, told the Huffington Post.

The secession votes were nonbinding, meaning the Townships remain part of Cook County until a county-wide vote is held and passes. Observers said such a vote would likely fail, since the Northwest suburbs provide a disproportionate amount of the county's revenue.

"Each municipality has a right to do what it needs to do," said James Ramos, spokesman for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. "But seceding is an expensive process. They're going to have to build their own courthouses, their own jails, health system, public defenders, and so on and so on."

Even though all three townships will continue having to pay Cook County sales taxes, supporters said the symbolic vote was an important first step.

"Personally, I don't know if [disconnecting] is viable," longtime Palatine mayor Rita Mullins, who lost her re-election campaign Tuesday to former Bears linebacker Jim Schwantz, told the Huffington Post. "But I was a proponent of voting 'yes' on the referendum to send a message to the county that the people of the county are unhappy."

Although leaving Cook County would mean freedom from the high sales tax rate, it would also mean forfeiting all county services.

"As we exist I think we could handle all of the services that we get from the county except for the bad guys, the jails," Mullins said. "I mean, the township of Palatine sends the county $18 million and gets $4 million in services back."

Mullins, a vocal secession advocate, said she knew of no further action the Township would be taking.

"I'm hoping Paul Vallas will come back and run for board president," Mullins said. "He's turned around three or four school systems, and I think he has the ability to change the county."

Ramos said he did not think opposition to the sales tax increase will have any effect on the president's stance.

"People don't like to pay taxes," Ramos said, "but that's the way government funds programs and services. Those townships do benefit from the services the county provides."

He said he knew of no movement by the townships to bring a county-wide secession vote.

Organizers of the referenda said they had not gotten far in deciding how to organize themselves should they eventually leave Cook County.

Palatine Mayor-elect Schwantz has said he would support a viable plan so long as Palatine did not bear the costs alone and, further, that those costs were not too high.

"What he [Schwantz] sees coming out of a vote is the people in the Northwest suburbs are upset," spokesman Steve Rossi said. "The sales tax makes it harder for businesses in Palatine to compete when people can drive a few miles to Lake County and pay less, especially on durable goods like refrigerators or computers."

Rossi said real change would have to come from Springfield and mentioned a constitutional amendment authored by Sen. Murphy that would allow townships to secede from a county with a majority vote of the township's residents and not the county's.

Murphy said the amendment, SJRCA43, has been sent to subcommittee, where he expects it to die. Murphy doubts secession will happen in the near-term, but he believes it has the potential to happen in time.

"When the political structure changes, we'll have a chance of breaking Cook County into manageable parts," Murphy said. "Our reps on the County Board -- two out of 17 -- do what they can, but they get steamrolled."

Some residents have batted around the idea of creating a new county, named Lincoln, but had few details on how that county would raise money or what its sales tax rate would be.

Even without all the details worked out, supporters still said something has to change.

"The dubious distinction of having the highest sales tax in the nation," Mullins said, "is not what the people want."

Referenda results:

Barrington Twp - Disconnect from Cook County

YES 65.65%
NO 34.35%

Hanover Twp - Disconnect from Cook County

YES 63.31%
NO 36.69%

Palatine Twp - Disconnect from Cook County

YES 72.97%
NO 27.03%