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Our view: Reduce number of governmental units

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

When it comes to layers of government, nobody can touch Illinois.

The Land of Lincoln has more than 7,000 units of government. Everything from county boards to township assessors to cemetery districts to mosquito abatement districts. The list is as long as the number of vendors to whom the state owes money.

Illinois has 1,298 municipal governments, and 3,232 nonschool special districts, according to census data. Pennsylvania – the state second to Illinois – has 4,900 units of government. It better start creating useless levels of government quickly if it wants to catch Illinois.

Unless, of course, Illinois did something to fall back toward Pennsylvania by eliminating or consolidating units of government.

Along those lines, the state took a baby step toward less government earlier this month, when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 494 into law. It authorized the DuPage County Board to eliminate 13 units of government that meet a strict set of criteria.

What’s the criteria? The board can vote to eliminate a taxing body for which it appoints a majority of its trustees, provided its boundaries are completely within the county, and it is not a fire district with full-time employees or a body created under the Water Commission Act of 1985. It also must cite a reason for elimination based on unnecessary or duplicate services, and voters can petition the county clerk to force the elimination to a referendum.

If applied to McHenry County, the law could be used to eliminate four of the 140 or so units of government in McHenry County. That’s a paltry 3 percent. Maybe we need less stringent criteria.

The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District, the Crystal Lake Rural Fire District and the Greenwood and Hebron drainage districts would be subject to elimination if SB 494 were allowed here. The drainage districts do not levy a tax.

The DuPage County law comes in advance of an expected January report by the Local Government Consolidation Commission, which state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, chairs.

We hope SB 494 is just the start, and that the commission offers substantial and meaningful ways to eliminate needless levels of government in Illinois.

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