Demand on Cook County Highway Department grows as population increases
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Demand on Cook County Highway Department grows as population increases

As more people move to Cook County and the North Shore, the demand for services offered by local government and other organizations continues to rise.

Among the most notable examples of this is the demand for increased services on the Cook County Highway Department.

There are hundreds of seasonal homes, owner-occupied homes, and cabins throughout Cook County where property owners do not receive basic road maintenance from the county’s highway department. These include services such as snow plowing, road grading and culvert maintenance. Many of the roads leading to private property in Cook County are technically owned by the U.S. Forest Service or the state, Highway Engineer Robbie Hass said during a Sept. 23 interview. It is therefore not the obligation of the highway department to provide services on these roads. However, it doesn’t keep local residents from asking. Hass said the local highway department receives many calls each year from property owners asking for help maintaining public roads that are not managed by the county. The county’s highway department has neither the staff nor the funding to provide these services, Hass said.

Cook County’s population grew by nearly 8 percent during the 2020 census. The county’s population is 5,600 as of the 2020 count. As people move to the far reaches of the rural county, the demand for road services is likely to increase, Hass acknowledged. One option, though it tends to be a logistical and administrative nightmare for the county, is to set up at Subordinate Governmental Service District (SGSD). This is essentially where the county serves as a facilitator between property owners on a non-county road and a private contractor to provide services on the roadway. An SGSD leads to an increase in property taxes for any area of the county where one is created. The establishment of an SGSD can be contentious in some cases, including areas in the east end of the county where landowners are not interested in having the services, while some of their neighbors would be.

The reality of living in Cook County – particularly in a remote pocket of the community where the highway department is not required to plow snow or maintain the road – is that local government is under no obligation to satisfy the wants of a property owner when it comes to road upkeep. In March, the Cook County Board of Commissioners updated the local zoning ordinance. It reads: “The Cook County Board of Commissioners finds that as of the date of enactment of this ordinance, there are sufficient areas of Cook County served by public roads with nearby public school bus, and other services, to allow for such residential and commercial development as is likely to be needed for the foreseeable future, and further, that additional public roads with nearby public school bus, and other services, would unreasonably burden the taxpayers of the county. The board further finds that there are those who wish to establish residential and commercial uses on land not within said areas already served by public roads, school bus service and other public services. In the past, the board has zoned those non-service areas so that residential and commercial development could not occur, because of the inordinate expense to taxpayers to extend public services further. However, the board is willing to permit such development within such non-serviced areas if there are guarantees that persons developing in such areas will not require extension of the already overextended public services within sole discretion of the board.”

To hear the full interview with Hass from Sept. 23, listen to the audio below. Other topics discussed during the live interview include an update on the Pike Lake Road construction project. The project is likely to be complete by Nov. 1, Hass said.