August 25, 2016
By Mindy Ruckman
A new law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Aug. 5 gives McHenry and Lake counties the authority to consolidate and dissolve units of local government within their boundaries, a power granted to DuPage County in 2013.
McHenry and Lake counties now have the power to cut costly units of government – which could result in lower tax bills for county residents, whose property taxes fund local-government operations.
On Aug. 5, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law House Bill 229, which gives McHenry and Lake counties the authority to consolidate and dissolve units of local government within their boundaries. This is an expansion of a 2013 law that only applied to DuPage County.
The 2013 law allowed the DuPage County Board to dissolve or consolidate units of government that are not cost-effective or do not provide a unique service to taxpayers. Since this law passed, DuPage County has eliminated four units of local government, and has consolidated the services of others. DuPage County’s success even gained recognition from Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti as her Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates recommended the expansion of DuPage County’s authority to all counties in Illinois.
In fact, that is exactly what HB 229 was intended to do. However, the bill that was signed into law is much more modest in reach than the measure state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, originally introduced in the General Assembly. The provision that extended government-consolidation and -dissolution powers to all 102 Illinois counties was cut to include only McHenry and Lake counties. The bill was also was changed to exclude conservation districts from McHenry and Lake counties’ dissolution and consolidation powers.
Despite the watering down of the bill, this marks a step in the right direction for Illinois. McHenry and Lake counties now have the ability to get rid of wasteful and duplicative units of government and give much needed relief to residents suffering under the weight of some of the highest property taxes in the nation.
This is also a step toward reducing the number of local governments in the state. Illinois has over 7,000 units of government – more than any state in the nation. And many of these, such as townships, are duplicative layers and do not provide taxpayers with any unique services. For example, the city of Elgin, just to the south of McHenry and Lake counties, has at least 16 units of government that its residents fund through taxes.
Efforts to reduce unnecessary layers of government shouldn’t stop here. The General Assembly should give all Illinois counties the authority to consolidate and dissolve local-government units. Illinois taxpayers desperately need these cost-saving reforms.