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Cronin offers State of County to Naperville chamber

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Crongets laugh from crowd as well as chamber president Tami Andrew (left) as he tells

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin gets a laugh from the crowd as well as chamber president Tami Andrew (left) as he tells them that his partisanship is no secret. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 27, 2012 6:10AM

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin summed up the state of DuPage County on Monday by quoting Choose DuPage President Greg Bedalov.

“The good news is that we’re DuPage County,” went the quote from the leader of the group charged with fostering business development in the county. “The bad news is that we’re DuPage County, Ill.”

Cronin delivered his State of the County speech to 230 members of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce at the Naperville Chicago Marriot. He painted a picture of a county moving in the right direction but bucking the economic headwinds of Illinois’ financial storm.

Cronin said that county government is headed in the right direction fiscally, citing that the fiscal year 2013 budget is $8.1 million less than the previous year and a two-year decline in spending of about $13 million.

Chamber members responded with applause at the mention of cuts in the county’s spending, and Cronin stressed that the reductions included seven fewer full-time employees this year and 40 fewer during the last two years.

“These are actual cuts,” he said, making a point to note that often reductions in the growth of spending pass for actual cuts among reformers.

Cronin listed several strategies used to trim spending, including making the county’s bidding more competitive to save $6 million, partnering with Kane County for juvenile detention services to save $1.3 million, and ending the practice of county employees saving sick and vacation days to increase their pension payout after retirement. He estimated that spike would save the county $20 million during the next 20 years.

Cronin also noted that, while benefit payouts have been cut by $1.6 million over the previous year, county employees will likely be asked to contribute more to health-care costs in the future.

But Cronin said there is more work to be done.

He cited recent scandals at the DuPage Water Commission and DuPage Housing Authority as proof that reforming various taxing bodies is key to making sure DuPage keeps moving in the right direction.

Cronin said that $600,000 has been saved at the DuPage Election Commission and noted that 15 of 24 taxing bodies in the county have already adopted the county’s ethics ordinance.

But as upbeat as Cronin is about the direction DuPage County is headed, there is still the matter of state government and its fiscal problems.

He ran through the now-familiar list of the state’s fiscal woes, including unemployment hovering about 9 percent, almost $100 million in unfunded pension liabilities, and billions of dollars in unpaid state bills.

“And our credit rating is somewhere between Bangladesh and Botswana,” he said.

Cronin spoke of an entrepreneur who decided to locate a $1.4 billion fertilizer factory four miles over the state line in Iowa because he didn’t have faith that Illinois government could clean up its fiscal mess.

“He didn’t believe state officials could fulfill their promise,” he said.

One audience member asked about the prospects for meaningful pension reform at the state level.

Cronin said there is cause for hope, noting “there is a hopeful sense of urgency” about the issue in Springfield. He did warn that any move to shift the employer’s share of pension costs for teachers back to local school districts would only be viable after reforming the system and asking teachers to pay more in contributions.

He made it clear that merely shifting the cost to local districts would meet with stiff opposition from local leaders.

“You’ll hear a lot of people howling,” Cronin said, “including myself.”

Another in attendance asked about the coming presidential election.

“I think it’s going to be a close race,” he said, while acknowledging that as a Republican he was behind the Romney/Ryan ticket. “Closer than it should be.”

Choose DuPage’s Bedalov approved of Cronin’s approach at the county.

“He makes a compelling case,” he said.

Bedalov stressed that the one thing the business community in DuPage County needs is an end to uncertainty so they can make long-range plans.

Interim Chamber President Tami Andrew praised Cronin as a “man of action,” and was particularly happy with the amount of money his administration has saved DuPage County.

But Andrew made it clear that Cronin didn’t bear the sole responsibility for ending the climate of uncertainty hampering the business community.

“I don’t think he can answer that question,” she said. “I don’t think the buck stops at DuPage County or even the state of Illinois.”

Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger said he appreciated Cronin’s focus on efficiency and stressed that Naperville city government has been on the same course for the last three years.

And he was hopeful about the state pension crisis, saying, “We’ve raised awareness.”

But he noted that actual reform is needed before the state can solve its problems.

“You can’t really move toward a solution (until then)” Krieger said.

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