January 23, 2019
Illinois’ large number of local government units – the largest in the United States at approximately 7,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau – is often cited as a reason for high property taxes in Illinois and has fueled calls for government consolidation and efficiencies. In February 2015 former Governor Bruce Rauner created the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force to study issues of local government and school district consolidation and unfunded mandates, and to identify opportunities to streamline government. The Task Force’s final report released on December 15, 2015 included 27 recommendations: 12 related to consolidation and 15 related to unfunded mandates. This blog examines which of the government consolidation recommendations have been implemented and which ones are still outstanding.
Local Government Consolidation
Of the 12 government consolidation recommendations included in the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force report, five have been fully or partially implemented through State legislation. Four of the five implemented consolidation initiatives were part of Senate Bill 3, a township consolidation bill sponsored by Senator Tom Cullerton in the Senate and Representative Sam Yingling in the House during the 100th General Assembly. Senate Bill 3 was signed into law as Public Act 100-107 on August 14, 2017.
The five completed consolidation initiatives are the following:
- Enact a 4-year moratorium on creating new local governments.
- Public Act 99-353 prohibits the creation of new local governments, unless the new unit is the result of consolidation, until January 1, 2020.
- Expand DuPage County’s Local Government Reduction and Efficiency Act (Public Act 98-126) to all 102 counties in Illinois, giving all counties the authority to dissolve or consolidate government units whose boards are appointed by the county.
- Remove the limitation capping a township size of 126 square miles in order to allow the consolidation of two or more townships into one.
- Senate Bill 3, passed into law as Public Act 100-107, removed the township size cap of 126 square miles and provided a process for the consolidation of multiple townships and for merging a single township into two other townships.
- Allow counties to retain their existing form of government following a successful referendum to dissolve townships into the county.
- Previously, any county that dissolved its townships into the county was required to change its structure to a commission form of government and cap the number of county board members to five. House Bill 4980 (99th General Assembly) sponsored by Representative Jack Franks introduced language to amend the Township Code to allow counties to assume a commission form of government rather than requiring them to do so. The bill died. However, Public Act 100-107 included the same language that allows counties to retain their form of government.
- Allow for the merger of general township road and bridge districts that maintain less than 25 miles of road.
- House Bill 4980 was introduced by Representative Jack Franks during the 99th General Assembly, which amended the Illinois Highway Code to allow abolishment of township road districts that oversee less than 25 miles of road. The bill died in the Rules Committee. However, Senate Bill 3, passed into law as Public Act 100-107, allows any township in any county except Cook to abolish road districts within that township if they are less than 15 miles in length.
- Another legislative initiative in House Bill 4637 (sponsored by Representative David McSweeney and Senator Terry Link, 100th General Assembly) would have made it easier for McHenry County electors to consolidate their township governments, in which case road districts would be dissolved and transferred to the county. The bill also required townships in Lake and McHenry County to abolish road districts if they are less than 15 miles in length. Governor Rauner vetoed the bill on January 11, 2019, and Representative McSweeney reintroduced the bill on January 14, 2019.
Five of the Task Force’s government consolidation recommendations were introduced as legislation but were not passed:
- Empower Illinois citizens to consolidate or dissolve local governments via referendum.
- This recommendation calls for standardization of referendum requirements for consolidating any types of local government. The proposal would lower the threshold for the number of signatures needed to submit a petition for a referendum from 10% of the electorate to at least 5% of the electorate, defined as the total number of votes cast in the preceding general election. It would also allow more time to collect petition signatures.
- Known as the Citizens Empowerment Act, several versions of this legislation have been introduced but failed to move forward, including House Bill 4967 (99th General Assembly) and House Bill 347 (100th General Assembly), both sponsored by Representative David McSweeney.
- Allow all townships in the state to consolidate with coterminous municipalities via voter referendum.
- Public Act 100-107 allows for the dissolution of a township into a coterminous or substantially coterminous municipality through resolutions approved by the township board and municipal corporate authority and with a referendum approval by the majority of voters. However, there is still no mechanism for this to be done via a voter-led referendum.
- House Bill 496 (100th General Assembly) sponsored by Representative Tom Demmer passed the Illinois House but not the Senate. It would have enabled citizens in all Illinois townships to put a referendum on the ballot for township dissolution with signatures of at least 10% of voters.
- So far only two coterminous townships and municipalities have dissolved township functions and transferred them to the municipality: Evanston and Belleville. Evanston was granted authority to merge via Public Act 98-127 and Belleville Township was dissolved through votes by the township and city council and authority to dissolve via Public Act 99-474. A third has also begun the dissolution process: Godfrey voters approved dissolution of Godfrey Township on a November 6, 2018 ballot referendum following previous approval by the village and township boards.
- There are still 17 coterminous or substantially coterminous townships/municipalities: Alton, Berwyn, Champaign, Bloomington, Urbana, East St. Louis, Freeport, Galesburg, Macomb, Oak Park, Quincy, River Forest, Warsaw, Zion, Granite City, Peoria and Springfield/Capital Township. Cicero Township and the Town of Cicero are coterminous but already act as a consolidated unit of government.
- Sangamon County voters approved an advisory referendum question on the November 6, 2018 ballot to consolidate Capital Township with Sangamon County. An April 2019 ballot question will also ask Springfield residents whether the city should be consolidated with Capital Township.
- Hold taxpayers harmless from township consolidation.
- This proposal would allow a county board or citizen-initiated township consolidation referendum to hold the local tax rate in the first year to the lowest rate among consolidating townships.
- House Bill 4980 (99th General Assembly) would have provided that, in cases of township consolidation, the adopted plan contain a requirement that a new property tax levy be levied on the affected townships no more than the lowest property tax rate of the affected township.
- Allow counties with fewer than 15,000 parcels and $1 billion in Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) to dissolve all of the elected township assessors and multi-township assessment districts into one, newly elected county assessor position and office by majority vote of the county board or via citizen-led referendum.
- According to the Task Force report, this recommendation was based on best practice recommendations from surrounding states and would provide standardized services and reduce the occurrence of unequal assessment practices. If enacted in all eligible counties in Illinois, it could lead to the elimination of 310 of the 312 multi-township assessment districts.
- House Bill 4980 (99th General Assembly) would have created a new article dealing with counties with fewer than 15,000 parcels and less than $1 billion in EAV which would have provided for either resolution or petition for referendum to discontinue all offices of township assessor in a county and allow the county assessor or supervisor of assessments to absorb those duties.
The following three Task Force recommendations represent ongoing or less concrete efforts than the legislative initiatives above:
- Protect the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act.
- The Task Force found that local governments in Illinois currently have strong constitutional powers to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation and have legislative authority to accomplish jointly what would be difficult under other more power limiting circumstances. The Task Force called for protection of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act and for the State to preserve the ability of local government to coordinate to provide effective and efficient local government for the people of Illinois.
- Provide the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) flexibility to incentivize outcomes of school district consolidation.
- The Task Force report found that school district consolidation can lead to enhanced academic offerings, K-12 curriculum alignment, and improved administrative efficiencies. Incentivizing these outcomes through ISBE could lead to school district consolidation without the application of a one-size-fits-all consolidation model.
- According to a presentation by ISBE to the Task Force, the number of school districts in Illinois decreased by 155, or 15%, between FY1984 and FY2016. This included 62 school district consolidations and 72 dissolutions of districts that were then annexed by another district, as well as other types of reorganizations.
- The State of Illinois has provided financial incentives for school districts that consolidate since the 1980s. The Better Government Association reports that the four types of incentives are:
- If, after consolidation, there is a decrease in General State Aid, the state covers that difference for four years.
- If, after consolidation, there is an increase in teacher salaries, the state covers that difference for four years.
- If, after consolidation, there is a difference in key fund balances (education, operations & maintenance, transportation, working cash), the state covers that difference for one year.
- After consolidation, the state will pay $4,000 per full-time, certified staff, such as teachers and counselors, for up to three years.
- After incentives are paid, the remaining appropriations are used to fund first-come-first-served feasibility studies for school districts to investigate the advantages or disadvantages to school district reorganization. At the time of ISBE’s presentation to the Task Force in August 2015, the annual state allotment for feasibility studies was between $4,500 and $8,000. Since FY2002, there have been 127 State-funded studies of a total of 245 school districts, with total funding of $844,000.
- Encourage state agencies – when allocating discretional state and federal funds to local governments – to encourage regional sharing of public equipment, facilities, training, resources, and administrative functions.
- The Task Force report stated that local units of government can achieve significant savings through the consolidation and sharing of services, assets, personnel and function. The report encouraged state agencies to incentivize good government and intergovernmental cooperation.
- Some opportunities for service sharing include sharing of equipment, vehicle repair facilities and emergency incident command staff; joint equipment purchasing; joint training; and shared IT services and personnel and administrative functions.
- Lieutenant Governor Sanguinetti released two editions of a Journal of Local Government Shared Service Best Practices, the first edition in 2016 and the second edition in 2018. These journals summarize examples of shared-service partnerships across the State of Illinois.
This blog post was created in collaboration with Transform Illinois. The Civic Federation is a member of Transform Illinois, a coalition of civic and research organizations and elected officials committed to improving government efficiency.