January 22, 2016
The Civic Federation has long supported legislation aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations in Illinois by consolidating or abolishing redundant and/or anachronistic local governments. For example, on November 17, 2003, the Federation called on the State to abolish the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District. The District was ultimately dissolved by State statute 70 ICLS 920/5.4 in 2006. The Federation also released a report on June 30, 2008, that recommended disbanding the Illinois International Port District and allowing the City of Chicago to transfer the District’s open lands to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and its golf courses to the Chicago Park District. Although that dissolution has not yet occurred, the Civic Federation continues to support legislation to do so.The Civic Federation previously wrote several times on the topic of government consolidation as the voters in the City of Evanston eventually decided to dissolve its coterminous township.
Consolidation and dissolution of units of local of governments continues to be the subject of much discussion in Illinois. For instance, in 2011 the Illinois General Assembly passed and Governor Quinn signed into law Public Act 097-0316, which created the Local Government Consolidation Committee. More information on the Local Government Consolidation Commission can be found here. Most recently, Governor Rauner established by Executive Order 15-15 the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force which examined many of the same issues. The purpose of this blog is to briefly summarize the recent report that was issued by the Governor’s Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates in partnership with the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies.
Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force
As noted in the Civic Federation blog last year, one of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s first actions upon taking office was issuing Executive Order 15-15, which created the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force. The purpose of the Task Force is to “…study issues of local government and school district consolidation and redundancy, and to make recommendations that will ensure accountable and efficient government and education in the State of Illinois.”
The Executive Order named Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti as chair of the Consolidation Task Force and stated that members would be appointed by the Governor and represent public and private organizations with additional membership made up of representatives from local governments, school districts and members of the General Assembly. Governor Rauner announced the 24 additional members of the task force on March 13, 2015. The Task Force formally made its recommendations to the Governor on January 6, 2016.
Task Force Report Summary
For this summary, we focus on the local government consolidation section of the Task Force’s report which discusses Illinois’ high number of local governments and high property tax rates in Illinois and offers recommendations to encourage consolidation. However, the full 406 page report also includes analyses of unfunded mandates local governments encounter, e.g., health insurance and public pensions.
Count of Governments
The authors note that the State of Illinois has the highest number of local governments in the U.S. with 6,963 according to the U.S. Census of Governments. The Task Force argues that such a large number of governments can lead to duplication of services and redundant layers of government, hence the need for consolidation.
In addition to having the highest number of governments in the U.S., the report says that Illinois residents also pay some of the highest property tax rates in the nation. They cite data from the U.S. Census of Governments and the Tax Foundation which said Illinois has the second highest median effective property tax rate in the U.S. at 2.32% behind only New Jersey at 2.38%.
The Task Force concluded that a contributing factor to Illinois’ high property tax rates was its high number of local governments for which property tax is a primary source of revenue. Therefore, they suggest, “any efforts to address Illinois’ high tax problems must include an examination of the numerous layers of local government.”
The Task Force offered 12 recommendations addressing obstacles to local government consolidation to the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly and are summarized below. The Task Force also made 15 recommendations related to unfunded mandates in the full report.
- Enact a four-year moratorium on creating new local governments, except if the new local government is a result of the consolidation of two or more governments;
- Allow citizens to consolidate or dissolve governments via referendum. The Task Force indicates that inconsistent and narrowly-crafted Illinois laws have made it difficult or unfeasible for local governments to consolidate;
- Develop legislation that would extend DuPage County’s Accountability/Consolidation/Transparency (ACT) Initiative pilot program to all 102 counties in the State. State statute PA 98-0126 granted only DuPage County the consolidation powers necessary to allow the County to begin the process of consolidating specific units of local governments located entirely within DuPage County and to which the County Board Chairman directly appoints a majority of the governing board of consent from the DuPage County Board. According to the report, the County has eliminated three of 13 eligible governments since that legislation was passed;
- The State should permit townships to annex with coterminous municipalities via referendum. In the example above, Evanston Township was coterminous with the City of Evanston, meaning it occupied “the same geographic footprint” as the City. Because the Township was within the City, the municipality maintained the Township’s roads which led to unnecessary administrative overlap. Allowing coterminous townships to consolidate could eliminate redundancy and lead to similar costs savings mentioned previously;
- Eliminate the 126-square-mile cap on townships which would allow consolidation of two or more townships into one. The Task Force states that the 126 square-mile cap is arbitrary and outdated because changes in population and technology could accommodate larger local governments;
- Allow counties to retain their current form of government in the event of consolidation as existing statute requires that a county change its governance structure to a commission form and caps the number of board members to five. In doing so, the State can provide citizens of merging governments the autonomy to determine the form and function of their local governments;
- If townships consolidate, the property tax rate for the new government should be set at the lowest taxing rate among the consolidating townships for the first year. Maintaining the lowest tax rate would encourage consolidation among townships because residents from one township will not pay a higher property tax rate;
- Allow counties with fewer than 15,000 parcels and $1.0 billion in Equalized Assessed Value to consolidate all elected township assessors and multi-township assessment districts into one office either by majority vote by the county board or by voter referendum. This would create parity in assessments and standardize services;
- The State should protect the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act (ICA) which encourages intergovernmental collaboration. The ICA provides the constitutional authority local governments need to enter into a collaborative relationship with another government. The Task Force is simply calling on the State to uphold the ICA;
- Encourage the consolidation of school districts by incentivizing positive outcomes of consolidation through the Illinois State Board of Education. For example, the Task Force cites the reorganization of school districts in Arthur, IL, which reduced costs in the first year by $450,000, improved the quality of education and maintained lower property tax rates;
- Encourage State agencies to promote regional sharing of public equipment, facilities, training, resources and administrative functions which can reduce costs to local governments; and
- Consolidate general township road and bridge districts that maintain fewer than 25 miles of road. By consolidating general road and bridge districts, these local governments could see greater efficiencies through economies of scale.
The Civic Federation will continue to monitor legislation in Springfield as it relates to consolidation and dissolution of local governments.