A Chicago-based government watchdog group praised DuPage County Board chairman Robert Schillerstrom's decision to freeze property taxes in his proposed $505 million budget for fiscal 2009, but called on the county to improve its financial planning and transparency.

The Civic Federation of Chicago gave the budget proposal its "qualified support" in a review released last week.

"DuPage County has proposed a reasonable spending plan that freezes property taxes," said federation president Laurence Msall. "However, our support is qualified because the budget fails to provide sufficient transparency and to demonstrate that the county is effectively planning for its future financial challenges."

The budget represents a 2.6% increase over the fiscal 2008 budget and includes collections from the new 0.25 percentage point increase in the county's sales tax, which is expected to generate $47 million annually. The sales tax hike will fund public safety and infrastructure in the county and was part of a transit agency bailout package approved by the Illinois General Assembly early this year.

While the additional revenue will help improve the county's fiscal position, Msall said: "With new revenues come new responsibilities. New spending should be linked to a rational planning process so that taxpayers have a way to evaluate the quality of new or enhanced programs."

Msall said the federation has not seen DuPage adopt best-practice management reforms widely utilized by local governments that include long-term financial planning, capital improvement planning, and performance measurement. The county also needs more transparency in its budget documents and should seek greater public input in the budget process, he said.

The report also recommends that DuPage reduce the number of elected officials to decrease fragmentation of authority, fold the Health Department into the rest of county government, and consider the privatization of the County Convalescent Center.

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