Quinn signs bill allowing some governments to consolidate

A bill that gives some of the state's most esoteric and obscure units of local government the power to eliminate themselves is now law.

House Bill 5785, sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, empowers these governments to consolidate or vote themselves out of existence if they so choose. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill on Monday.

Franks has called the bill a step in the right direction toward paring down Illinois' almost 7,000 units of government, by far the most of any state.

"While it is imperative that we continue to work to reduce the size and scope of state government, we can also provide residents with meaningful tax relief by identifying opportunities for consolidation and increased efficiency at the local level," Franks said in a statement.

The new law allows the boards of such eclectic taxing districts as cemetery, civic center, museum, port, waste disposal, street lighting, water authority and other districts to either consolidate into a neighboring district or have their duties absorbed by a municipal or county government. The absorbing government would have to vote to approve taking on a dissolved taking body's responsibilities.

Illinois has the most units of government of any state at more than 6,900 – the first runner-up, Pennsylvania, has about 4,900.

McHenry County alone has 30 municipalities, 19 school districts, 17 townships, 17 fire protection districts, 13 library districts, four park districts, two sanitary districts and two cemetery districts. County government also supervises a number of specialized taxing bodies overseen by appointed boards, including a conservation district, a mental health board, a senior services grant commission and the county nursing home.

Opponents like Franks allege that the sheer number of taxing bodies result in overtaxation and waste, and makes it impossible for taxpayers, media and watchdog groups to keep an eye on them all.

The final report of a consolidation commission created and chaired by Franks concluded that consolidation must be encouraged at the local level rather than dictated at the state level.

But it also discovered that many types of government have no authority under state law to consolidate or abolish themselves. Others, according to the report, are allowed to consolidate, but under unusual caveats – for example, two contiguous library districts cannot merge unless they have the exact same limits on their tax levies.

Efforts to enact consolidation at the state level rarely muster the necessary votes to pass, in part because of lobbying by local government interest groups.

The new law covers only two taxing bodies in McHenry County – the Nunda Township and Richmond cemetery districts.

A companion bill, House Bill 3251, sought to forbid the General Assembly from passing legislation creating any new unit of local government for four years. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House but is languishing in the Senate.

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