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Legislators back DuPage model for government consolidation

IBJ staff report
    SPRINGFIELD — A measure to streamline local government, mirroring success seen in DuPage County, has passed the Illinois General Assembly and been sent to the governor.
    State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, led the effort, acting on what he says were the strengths of the changes made in his home county.
    “Through our bipartisan work, we have made DuPage County a leader in government consolidation,” Cullerton said in a statement. “It’s time to use the lessons we have learned and spread our success throughout the state to save valuable taxpayer dollars.”
    Cullerton passed Senate Bill 2994, which requires all Illinois county boards to submit a report to the General Assembly recommending units of government that may be dissolved or consolidated.
    That was the first step used by DuPage County in its own government consolidation efforts. Through the model, the county is projected to save taxpayers more than $100 million over the next 20 years, he said.
    He acknowledged that may not sound like a lot of money spread over time, “but you have to get nickels and dimes wherever you can.”
    Illinois has more than 7,000 government entities developed decades ago — more than any state. This bill would only affect governments that are overseen by counties.
    “Government needs to evolve with the needs of the people,” Cullerton said. “It’s our duty to ensure government is working efficiently for Illinois residents.”
    State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, led the measure in the House.
    The bills passed both chambers with bipartisan support.
    The measure that Cullerton sponsored in the Senate this year tagged onto another Senate bill (SB 494) that passed the legislature in 2013, dealing with the consolidation of 13 units of government in DuPage County.
    “That was sort of a test case, given the fact that years before multiple people had tried government consolidation and were unsuccessful,” he said during a recent press conference. “The new measure will allow the remaining 101 Illinois counties to do something similar.”
    So far about “four or five units” of DuPage government are en route to consolidation, he said. One example he cited was removal of a lighting district set up for a subdivision that has long been built. Another was removal of an unmanned fire district, with coverage transferred to another department.
    “If every county in this state just reduces by, say, 10 units of local government, we would reduce our units by over 1,000 in Illinois,” Cullerton said.
    Before SB 2994 was actually voted upon, several people, including Cullerton, gathered to make their pitch for consolidation.
    Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Lake County, said the bill will be the first of many steps to relieve the state’s taxpayers of “crushing property tax bills.” Lake County has the 15th highest property tax rate in the nation, according to one study he cited.
    The next step will be to focus on township consolidation, he said. Separate measures to push consolidation of townships in Illinois were still in House committee at month’s end.
    Supporters credited the work of the Illinois Municipal League and Executive Director Brad Cole who served on a governor’s panel dealing with unfunded mandates and local government consolidation.
    That task force explored many ways to streamline government, resulting in multiple bills.
    The legislation passed so far emphasizes that the power rests with local governments, Cole said.
    “Leaders in each of Illinois’ counties would have the opportunity to analyze and review where consolidation makes sense for them,” Cole said. “The existing services and needs of each county are different.”
    Cole said he believed the measure will eventually strengthen participation in government.
    There is an opportunity within the bill for residents to use a backdoor referendum to take matters to a vote, for or against a removal of government.
    Heather Weiner, government affairs staff attorney with the Illinois Policy Institute said the bill could have substantial impact.

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