An Inventory of Local Governments in Illinois: Differences Among Reporting Agencies

March 11, 2021

The Civic Federation’s recently released Inventory of Local Governments in Illinois report identified a total of 8,923 units of local government in Illinois. In addition to providing a comprehensive list of local governments in Illinois, the report provides an overview of the different types of local governments in Illinois and their reliance on property taxes and other sources of revenue to fund operations. The report also provides population characteristics of local governments as well as a comparison of the number of local governments in Illinois to other selected states.

The Civic Federation used three primary sources of information to produce the most comprehensive list of local governments in Illinois. These include the Government Master Address File (GMAF) from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 Census of Governments, the Illinois State Comptroller’s registry of local governments and information provided to the Civic Federation by the Illinois Department of Revenue.

The Civic Federation’s total count of 8,923 local governments in Illinois is greater than the number of local governments reported by the Illinois State Comptroller (8,529), the U.S. Census Bureau (6,918) and the Illinois Department of Revenue (6,042), due to the methodology and the compilation of all three listings to create a composite count. The Federation’s list included in the report is purposefully as inclusive as possible so as to provide a comprehensive view of the totality of local governments in Illinois. The choice to be as inclusive as possible does not mean the other lists are wrong, they simply use different methodologies.

This blog will examine the differences among the three government reporting agencies.

While the number of local governments varies by each government reporting agency and each are not without their own limitations in identifying all of the various types of local governments in Illinois, individually they all serve as a valuable resource to lawmakers and the public. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Governments data serves as a useful tool for state-to-state comparisons, while the Illinois State Comptroller’s Office provides a registry of local governments that is helpful in identifying the local governments specific to Illinois. The Illinois Department of Revenue data provides useful information on the local governments in Illinois that are authorized to levy property taxes.

General Purpose Governments

The differences in the total number of general-purpose governments by each reporting agency is minimal and due to the inclusion of townships and municipalities that are no longer in existence or how they are classified. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau and Illinois Department of Revenue include Belleville Township, while the Illinois Comptroller no longer lists Belleville Township since it was dissolved in 2017 [1]. Also, the Illinois Comptroller’s listing of local governments was the only reporting agency that still included the Village of Whiteash in Williamson County, which voters dissolved in 2014 [2]. As another example, the U.S. Census Bureau includes South Fillmore Township in Montgomery County separately even though it merged with Fillmore Township to create Fillmore Consolidated Township. Also, the Illinois Department of Revenue classifies the Town of Cicero in Cook County as a township, while the Illinois Comptroller and U.S. Census Bureau classify it as a municipality [3].

Special Purpose Governments

To further understand the differences in the total number of special purpose districts reported by each reporting agency it is important to understand the methodology used by each agency to collect information on the number and types of local governments. All three reporting agencies are required by law to collect information on local governments — albeit for different purposes [4]. For example, the Illinois Department of Revenue only counts “taxing districts,” excluding governments that lack the authority to levy property taxes [5]. This results in IDOR having the lowest count of local governments among the three government reporting agencies. Other differences among the reporting agencies are almost entirely due to criteria used to define local governments.

The U.S. Census Bureau excludes governments that lack several characteristics, namely fiscal and administrative autonomy. As result, road and bridge districts, which are frequently classified as divisions of townships, are not included in the Census Bureau’s listing of local governments or the Illinois Department of Revenue’s listing [6]. However, the Illinois Comptroller’s registry of local governments recognizes road and bridge districts as a separate type of local government. For the purposes of the report, the Civic Federation also lists road and bridge districts separately from townships because not all townships have road districts and/or road and bridge districts. There are several types of road districts allowed under Illinois state law. Certain road districts are consolidated districts that include two or more townships. There are also municipal road districts that are solely within the boundaries of a municipality and unit road districts that are typically governed by the county board. The 2017 Census of Governments listing also does not include multi-township tax assessment districts, which accounts for approximately 325 additional units of local government. Multi-township tax assessment districts are responsible for the assessment of real property in townships with a population less than 1,000 residents and other townships electing to use these provisions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s exclusion of local governments that lack fiscal and administrative autonomy can also be seen in the higher count of public library districts and forest preserve districts by the Illinois Comptroller. As an example, because the governing boards of the Lake County Forest Preserve District and the Cook County Forest Preserve District are governed by the same board as their respective counties, the U.S. Census Bureau does not include them in their listing, even though they have independent taxing authority. The number of public library districts reported by the Comptroller are impacted by this as well as shown by the Comptroller including libraries that have separately elected boards but the budget and levy may be approved by the municipality that the library district is within, such as the La Grange Library in Cook County and Messenger Library in Kane County [7]. Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau only includes local governments if they continue to operate; those that retain the “right to exist” are only counted by the U.S. Census Bureau if they still offer services [8]. As a result, there are smaller special purpose governments included that are sometimes very small in geographical size that are still in existence and may still provide services, but the entire local government may be governed and operated by one person. These instances occurred primarily with drainage districts [9].

Other differences among the reporting agencies include the number of cemetery districts, exposition and civic center authorities, housing authorities, public building commissions, road districts, special recreation districts and smaller differences amongst other types of local governments. As previously noted, if the local government is not authorized to levy a property tax it is excluded from the Department of Revenue’s list. If it is not required to report to the Comptroller or is not properly reported to the Comptroller’s Office by the respective county clerk, it may not be included in their listing of local governments. If the local government does not meet the criteria for being an independent local government by the Census Bureau it may not be included in their listing. For the purposes of this report, the Civic Federation includes all of the local governments included in the lists by the three reporting agencies unless Federation staff could verify that certain entries by the reporting agency were not considered a local government under Illinois state law or they were consolidated, dissolved or eliminated by some other means, such as a ballot referendum.

The following table compares the number and types of local governments in Illinois by the three government agencies and the Civic Federation.



Related Links:

[1] Mike Koziatek, Belleville News-Democrat, January 19, 2016, “Belleville Township board votes to dissolve township effective May 2017.”

[2] Nick Mariano, The Southern Illinoisan, December 9, 2014, Updated August 13, 2015, Whiteash: Dissolving a village no easy task.

[3] The Town of Cicero in Cook County, Illinois is unique in that it incorporated as a Town rather than a village or city, an option that no longer exists in Illinois statute. Both municipal and township functions are provided by a single board and there is not a separate municipal property tax levy. However, it is classified as a home rule municipality. For the purposes of the report the Civic Federation classifies the Town of Cicero only as a municipality, rather than as a township and municipality, in order to avoid double counting.

[4] See 15 ILCS 405/23.7; 35 ILCS 200/18-255; 20 ILCS 2530/15; and United States Code, Title 13.

[5] Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates, Delivering Efficient, Effective, and Streamlined Government to Illinois Taxpayers (Springfield, 2015), pp. 164, 170.

[6] This is evident by the fact that the Illinois Department of Revenue does not include road and bridge districts in its listing, but does include road districts that are located in counties without the township form of government.

[7] See 75 ILCS 5 through 75 ILCS 70 for more information on the fiscal and administrative autonomy of different types of elected and appointed library boards. It is important to note that this report does not include public libraries that are component units of a municipality, such as the Chicago Public Library and other municipal public libraries that have appointed rather than elected boards.

[8] United States Census Bureau, 2017 Census of Governments, Individual State Descriptions: 2017, pp. 1, 3.

[9] Based on telephone interviews with various county and special district officials and other research conducted by Civic Federation staff.