The capacity of municipalities throughout northeastern Illinois to pursue their own local and regional goals varies widely — and is often insufficient. Factors such as staff and elected official expertise, financial conditions, tax base and policy, ability and expertise to
prioritize investments, and more can affect a municipality’s ability to thrive. The consequence of this variation and insufficiency is that many communities simply cannot set or achieve goals, and face increasingly difficult barriers to overcome.

The region is at a critical moment. Insufficient local revenue leaves little room for achieving planning objectives. The sheer number of government units in the region – including, but not limited to municipalities – may drive higher public service costs and likely diminishes civic engagement. Some of these issues municipalities can control, but without a concerted and sustained effort to rethink how municipalities function and cultivate resources, achieving substantive local or regional improvements will be challenging. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) developed this strategy paper to begin to outline how that effort might take shape and to inform ON TO 2050, the region’s next comprehensive plan.

CMAP and MPC analyzed the factors that affect municipal capacity positively and negatively, as well as strategies to enhance capacity. Through a series of in-depth focus groups with elected officials and staff throughout the region, CMAP and MPC compared needs and barriers in areas such as training, service sharing, revenue base, planning practice, and many others. Research on existing best practices within the region, as well as analysis of initiatives in other states and regions identified the most viable recommendations to improve municipal capacity. Recognizing the diverse characteristics and goals of jurisdictions throughout the region, this strategy paper offers a guide
for all municipalities across the full spectrum of capacity levels, with a suite of strategies that can be tailored to meet each municipality’s needs. Several recommendations call for new partnerships across the region and among various government agencies, emphasizing the broad range of actors that play a pivotal role in building effective government, including local governments, counties, councils of government, CMAP, civic organizations, and the State of Illinois.

This paper establishes a strategic framework of recommendations to build technical expertise, enhance community networks, and enhance the capability of municipalities and their staff. These recommendations are categorized into the following five areas:

  1. Enhance technical assistance offerings and resources.
  2. Prioritize training for municipal officials and staff.
  3. Support service sharing and consolidation.
  4. Ensure municipalities can effectively maintain and enhance their infrastructure.
  5. Address fiscal conditions.

The project’s advisory group and focus group participants consistently identified the following seven actions as near-term priorities to advance the five key recommendations:

  1. Promote and facilitate shared service goals through technical assistance.
  2. Identify and evaluate opportunities for service consolidation and shared service delivery.
  3. Build on the success of CMAP’s Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program.
  4. Ensure relevant trainings are provided for elected and appointed officials.
  5. Create networking opportunities for municipal staff.
  6. Provide opportunities that encourage municipal cooperation and partnership.
  7. Improve infrastructure planning.

This strategy paper should be used to promote dialogue and expand practice areas that develop and reinforce partnerships, and to
help local actors overcome barriers to achieving local and regional goals. CMAP and MPC are committed to pursuing implementation of these
recommendations.

Municipal Capacity Strategy Paper November 2017 (PDF)