Illinois has the most local units of government of any state in the country at as many as 6,963. SB3, or Public Act 100-0107, paves the way for consolidation of some of these local governments. The BGA’s policy unit supported SB3 and, with your help, called on legislators to do the same. Here’s what you need to know about the law.
What does SB3 do?
SB3 is a landmark move toward more accountable and efficient government in Illinois. It enables county governments across the state to consolidate units of local government under their jurisdiction by approving a referendum asking voters if they support the proposed dissolution. This means voters need to approve the proposed plan before it is adopted. Lastly, SB3 will also allow townships to be dissolved into overlapping municipalities, allow townships to be larger than 126 square miles, and let townships sharing a border to merge.
What is government consolidation?
Government consolidation is the process of combining multiple units of government that provide similar or identical services For example, 911 agencies in adjacent areas may be able to combine operations and better serve both areas as a whole while saving taxpayer money. Consolidating units of government that are redundant or ineffective can lower property taxes and save taxpayers’ money. Consolidation also has the potential to create a more efficient government that delivers services at higher quality and cheaper cost to the taxpayer. For example, in 2013, DuPage County was allowed to begin consolidating county-appointed agencies. This was the result of the ACT Initiative that began in 2011 which sought to examine challenges and opportunities for improvement in county services. The reforms by DuPage County are estimated to save more than $100 million of taxpayer money. Today, DuPage still is moving forward on consolidating services and the DuPage model is now available statewide to all counties because of SB3.
When to consolidate?
Like a lot of things, government consolidation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, among other considerations consolidations work best when there is a local buy-in, the governments have a similar tax base with similar or complementary services, there are existing partnerships, and/or adjacent communities are individually suffering from low-growth or declining populations. It is important to note that SB3 does not require local units to dissolve. Consolidations should continue to be carefully considered and planned by the stakeholders involved. In effect, SB3 places that process squarely in the hands of those local stakeholders and empowers the residents of Illinois and their elected officials to work with one another to make government more transparent, accountable, and efficient.
What are next steps I can take?
To build on the passage of SB3, have conversations with your local officials, ask them to conduct analyses on units of government you believe are ineffective or redundant that could be consolidated. Once units are identified, officials can place referendums on ballots and begin the process of dissolving or consolidating those agencies and services. SB3 empowers voters to decide what their government looks like. Residents and officials can help make the case for consolidation by studying and explaining the potential benefits and costs and carefully planning the successful combination of services.
There are a number of resources that can help you learn if consolidation is right for your local government. Transform Illinois, a coalition dedicated to government efficiency which the BGA is a part of, has collected resources that highlight prior local consolidation initiatives and partnerships that have resulted in taxpayer money being saved while improving services. Lieutenant Governor Sanguinetti also released a report in 2015 focused on local government consolidation which highlights issues and opportunities for reform around the issue.
Jose Sanchez is a policy analyst for the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.