That $12,000 in wasted taxpayer money just the norm in Illinois

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Interior of the Lodge at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva. | John Konstantaras/For the Sun-Times

There are things public officials would never do if they thought somebody might call them out on it.

Case in point: Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough last month blew $12,303.09 of county money on a party for herself and 10 employees. At a rate of $1,118 plus change per person, they lolled away a weekend at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.


And how, may we ask, is your tax bill looking these days?

We are aware of Yarbrough’s extravagance only because a Sun-Times reporter, Mitch Dudek, happened upon the story by chance. He was at the resort and encountered Yarbrough and her colleagues.

This points to the larger problem, beyond that $12 grand. In Illinois such wastefulness is normal, going largely unnoticed and unpoliced, because our state has an absurdly large number of local government entities, some 7,000. That’s the most in the United States. Who can keep an eye on them all?

Illinois would be more taxpayer-friendly if hundreds of unnecessary units of government were given the ax, as reformers have been pushing for years. A state law that went into effect last summer requires every county board to list redundant units of local governments that could be consolidated or eliminated, but almost every county has ignored the law.

The good news is that voters recognized in November that Yarbrough’s office, which keeps track of land transactions, was an unnecessary one. It will be merged into the county clerk’s office, beginning in 2020, saving taxpayers an estimated $800,000 to $1 million a year.

The further good news is that other small but successful efforts have been made to eliminate unnecessary units of government, after decades of complete failure. The DuPage County Board has been a leader in this, eliminating local units of government such as a street lighting district that operated just 77 streetlights. The DuPage board estimates its consolidations will save taxpayers about $80 million over three years.

But given that local units of government in Illinois spend almost $60 billion a year, we’d say the ax has only just begun to swing.

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