Effort to consolidate local governments is finally making headway
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
It’s property tax time and that’s always a good time to highlight efforts at government streamlining.
My tax bill hit home about a week ago. I took a deep breath, braced myself and opened it. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, up a couple hundred dollars over the prior year. But year after year, that adds up, doesn’t it?
And here’s the other thing that worries me: the numbers of governments and funds. I’m paying for 16 different government funds. I’ll bet plenty of you are paying for more than that. Take a look. Count them up before you pay.
The good news is there are legislative proposals that encourage streamlining and consolidation now awaiting the governor’s action. Let’s look at a few.
Senate Bill 2543 encourages dissolution or consolidation of mosquito abatement districts. The mosquitoes this summer are the worst I can recall in years and, unless I’ve missed it, I haven’t heard the abatement trucks slow-rolling down my street, spraying to stop them.
The bill to encourage streamlining was sponsored by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, and state Rep. David Olsen, a Downers Grove Republican. It would allow a majority of mosquito abatement district trustees to vote to fold its functions into a neighboring township, municipality or county.
Cullerton said he expects counties to be the likely governments that will take over the mosquito eradicating function in most places around the state. He said he tried to advance a bill to get rid of pesky mosquito districts a few years ago when he learned DuPage County had dozens of them, but it went nowhere. Since then, though, momentum toward streamlining is growing and the proposal passed this year with hardly any opposition.
Now it’s up to Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill into law and then residents may need to push their governments to get the vote to consolidate done.
Cullerton also helped shepherd through to the governor a plan to eliminate the election commission in DuPage County after many years of battling over it by citizen activists. The DuPage County Election Commission was created in 1974. Peoria and DuPage counties are the only two counties with election commissions in Illinois. In most instances around Illinois, county clerks run elections and tally votes, but there also are six municipal election commissions. House Bill 5123, if signed into law, authorizes the DuPage County board to dissolve the election commission and turn its operations over to the county clerk, allowing DuPage to mirror the vast majority of the rest of Illinois’ counties.
Cullerton said it’s doubtful the commission will be eliminated in time for the November election, but a series of controversies and a problem with vote counting in the March primary only helped grease the skids for the end of this commission.
“We’ll have a smoother, easier system and save some pay, pension and benefits right off the bat,” Cullerton said.
Last year, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 3, piloted in DuPage County, which gave all counties the power to streamline certain county-appointed agencies, boards and functions. This year, state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Beach Democrat, Cullerton and others followed up with a plan to speed up the streamlining process. House Bill 5777 reduces the amount of time given for an audit of a government body or agency on the chopping block to 30 days, or as soon as is practical once the audit is requested by the county executive. It also speeds up the time frame to 60 days instead of 150 days for a county board to dissolve a government body once someone is appointed to oversee the disbanding of that body.
That’s all technical stuff, but the good news is that DuPage County continues to demonstrate how to get rid of excess governments. Hopefully, more and more counties will follow its lead.
Since it was granted the power to dissolve in a 2013 pilot, Sheryl Markay, deputy county administrator, said DuPage County officials have eliminated five governments: Timberlake Estates Sanitary District, Fairview Fire Protection District, DuPage Fair & Exposition Authority, Century Hill Street Lighting District and North Westmont Fire Protection District. Two more dissolutions are well under way. By next year, Highland Hills Sanitary District and the aforementioned election commission likely also will be no more, bringing to seven the total number of governments gone.
“My thought was if we eliminated 10 in the first four, five years, and then every county did the same thing,” Cullerton said, “we’d reduce the size of government by 1,000 units. Hell, if everybody did five, that would be something.”
As Illinois leads the nation with nearly 7,000 units of government, 1,000 fewer would be something indeed.
“There has been a seismic shift in the past two years,” Yingling said. He predicts we’re on a path to requiring streamlining rather than just encouraging it. “Moving forward, I think we’re going to see much more effective bills that will mandate consolidation and require swifter action.”
My guess? If more of us take a good look at our property tax bills, that’s an effort many of us gladly will get behind.
Madeleine Doubek is vice president of policy for the Better Government Association.