Rock Island County still waits, and pays, for a board that is not downsized

Rock Island County taxpayers continued to wait for action after they voted to downsize a board that is five times as large, and costs nearly twice as much to operate, as the board in neighboring Scott County.

Residents in Scott and Rock Island counties dished out more than half-million dollars to pay for county board members’ salaries and health benefits in 2013.

The Rock Island County Board has been scrutinized for the amount of money that is dedicated to board salary and benefits.  The county is split into 25 districts that are each represented by one board member.  The 25-member board represents a county population of 147,258 residents according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census.

Taxpayers contributed more than $430,000 to fund the Rock Island County Board in 2013, including about $135,000 to fund board members’ insurance and other benefits such as mileage and retirement plans.

At the polls in November of 2012 voters decided, by a large margin, to downsize the Rock Island County Board.  Seventy-two percent of voters said yes to downsizing but, nearly two years later, nothing has been done.

District 6 Representative Don Jacobs, who has been involved in local politics for 48 years, blames Illinois state statutes for the delay.

“We can only reapportion districts every 10 years, and it has to be by the census,” said Jacobs.

That would mean the option of downsizing couldn’t be addressed until 2020.

District 22 Representative Drue Mielke, who was elected in November 2012, disagrees.

“The statute says, ‘in all but exceptional circumstances.’ That’s not never,” Mielke said.  “Taxpayers voted, and they have a right to know.”

In Iowa, the Scott County board is structured differently. Five members, who are elected at-large, represent their county at a cost to taxpayers of just over $270,000.

Those five members represent 170,385 residents according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census. 

“Five is the right number for a county this size,” said Scott County Board Chairman Larry Minard.

Minard told News 8 that having a board elected at-large has advantages and disadvantages. For example, all five current Scott County Board members live in Davenport, whereas Rock Island County has one member representing each of the 25 districts.

The advantage for taxpayers can be that a smaller board, with fewer members, costs less money to operate.

Rock Island County Board members were waiting for a decision from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, concerning whether they can downsize their board, before the 2020 census.

 

 

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