Six counties to reduce size of County Board

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
map of Illinois counties

Multiple counties within the State of Illinois have breathed a collective sigh of relief, as SB 825 regarding the re-mapping of counties for reapportionment of districts passed through the General Assembly and landed on the Governor's desk.

SB 825 moves dates for counties to draw and ratify maps from June 30 to December 31, 2021. This enables counties to wait for actual 2020 Census data to be utilized. The date for taking out primary petitions will be moved to January 13, 2022, and the actual Illinois primary will occur June 28, 2022.

A number of counties, faced with ratifying new district maps by June 30, or having control of the process taken out of the county's hands, were uneasy about the use of the tools available to them. Either American Community Survey data, which is reputed to be accurate between 90-95%, or 2010 Census data, dated and not reflecting shifts in population made in the last decade, were the only options available.

To further compound the individual county's pain, at least six counties statewide have decided to not only redraw their district maps to reflect these shifts, but to downsize their Boards as well. This will cause a number of them to scrap existing maps, and start from scratch. A big project to begin with, but bigger still without the accuracy of actual Census blocks.

Henry County is considering reducing the size of the Board from 20 to 16. The population is estimated at 50,000. The reapportionment of the districts are being considered to include representation of the smaller communities, and communities of interest. They use a District method of electing County Board members, who are currently running in two districts of approximately 25,000 each.

Jan Weber, Henry County Republican County Chairman, and member of the reapportionment committee, said “ It’s important to have a diverse board that is representative of our county. During the past 8 years the board has had many new members elected, new members bring new ideas, unique backgrounds and perspectives which have helped provide strong leadership.” She supports a three district map that would have members equally elected from each district. 

The neighbor to the east, Bureau County, is looking at reducing their Board from 26 down to 18. The challenge there is that members serve in a single member district, with one board member per 1300 estimated population. Final 2020 Census data is essential to drawing accurate single member districts of roughly 1900. Bureau County has an estimated 34,000 residents. 

To Henry County's west, Rock Island County has a similar quagmire.  According to Richard "Quijas" Brunk, the County Board Chairman, their board will be reducing from 25 members to 19, all in single member districts. There has been some attrition in population, going from 148,000  in 2010 to 142,000 estimated in 2019. He feels that with the single member districts, the Board can maintain the "diversity of the county, and give a voice on the County Board to communities of interest."  Brunk feels their Board reflects the people in Rock Island County with it's members being from all races, lifestyles and backgrounds.  Rock Island has begun remapping the districts using the ACS data available, and intends to "tweak" it when Census data becomes available.

McHenry County in the northwestern suburbs is also downsizing it's County Board from 24 to 18.  It is home to towns like Crystal Lake, Woodstock and Lake in the Hills.  The County has 310,000 residents.  Currently they have a six district map,with four members in each district.  They are proposing a map consisting of nine two-member districts. Peter Austin, McHenry County Administrator revealed that their county used an independent consultant to help draw the map.  They will continue to work on it, and use the Census data to fine tune it once it is available. 

Two other counties, Will County, whose largest city is Joliet will be reducing their board from 26 to 19, reportedly, and Madison County, whose seat is Edwardsville will be reducing from 29 to 20. 

Rock Island Chairman Blunk, when asked the role of County Boards, stated "It is the governing body that makes the decisions that impact citizens daily lives are made."

County Boards oversee the operations within the County Courthouse. Members serve on  the committees that administer zoning, assessments, finance, public safety, the Sheriff's department, the jail, and county roads.  It disburses and utilizes the funds collected for property taxes. Members are elected from within their district to serve on this board, and have careers outside of the Board. Board members will often serve on several committees, resulting in several meetings every month, as well as the monthly full Board meeting.