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During the recent election cycle, most of the attention was paid to high profile, locally-contested races for mayors, city councils and school boards.

But there were dozens of other, uncontested contests for local governmental units, such as ambulance, drainage, and fire protection districts that, once again, highlight just how many layers of local government we have in Illinois. 

As we have reported before, Illinois has around 7,000 units of local government. A lot of taxpayer dollars could be saved if we reduced that number — a conclusion that, not surprisingly, has been reached by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, who more than two years ago was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to study the situation.

Now, it's time for the General Assembly to act on it.  

The consolidation of many of these small units of government and sharing of services would accomplish another Rauner objective that we agree with — property tax relief — a goal he emphasized repeatedly during his January State of the State address, citing Sanguinetti's report.

The huge number of local government is, in part, why Illinois pays the second highest median property tax rate in the country.

Most of the reduction in these units can be realized by doing away with redundancy, overlap and duplicate administrative costs. 

To her credit, Sanguinetti found that some local government bodies do a good job of sharing services, reducing burdensome state mandates and relieving the tax burden on taxpayers. Her report defined shared services as voluntary arrangements between two or more governments to provide more efficient and effective services that help program recipients and taxpayers.

Her report cites 27 specific examples collected through a survey distributed by local government associations across the state. 

For taxpayers struggling with ever-increasing property tax bills and service fee hikes (water, sewer, etc.), the issue needs to be addressed.  

That's not something most lawmakers want to do because these units of government have been around for decades and the people who run them think they are necessary. Not many people are willing to give up something they've always had — plus, these are the kinds of folks who vote.

But, again, consider that Illinois' number of governmental units is first in the nation by far. It includes an estimated 3,200-plus  “special districts’’ that include, among others, obscure bodies like mosquito abatement districts.

The overall system is so confusing experts disagree on just how many units of local government exist in the state. There is little oversight on many of them and the system is so vast that taxpayers cannot keep track.

The number of local governmental units is unmanageable to ensure fair and open government and the  taxpayer burden is unsustainable. Streamlining government is one way Illinois can return to being competitive in an increasingly-competitive regional, national and global economy.

We'll keep repeating that we expect our lawmakers in Springfield to take on the issues that need to be addressed. This is another one.


Central Illinois Deputy Editor

Central Illinois deputy editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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