With nearly 7,000 units of local government, Illinois is taking some baby steps toward reducing that number with a goal of lowering property taxes in the process.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation into law that would allow voters to approve of dissolving townships in McHenry County, which sits on the Wisconsin border northwest of Chicago.
“We have 7,000 units of local government. That’s way too many,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills. “We need to give voters the ability to consolidate local governments and this is a good first step.”
McSweeney said the bipartisan cooperation he received from Democratic Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, and McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, a former Democratic state lawmaker, was key to passing the legislation.
“One of the biggest concerns I continue to hear from constituents is the high cost of property taxes,” Link said in a statement. “Government consolidation is one tool we have to lower that burden for suburban homeowners and small businesses.”
Bryan Smith, director the Township Officials of Illinois, said townships have much greater importance in other areas of the state.
"Township government in these rural areas are the true lifelines," he said. "They keep the roads open so the school buses can get the kids to school, they keep the roads open so folks can get out to work, and they keep the roads open so the mail can be delivered. They keep these areas open in these circumstances proving they are true lifelines."
The next step, McSweeney said, will be statewide legislation to reduce Illinois’ 7,000 units of local government, including the state’s 859 school districts.
“We have a ridiculous situation where we have some school areas that have K-8 and then have a high school district. Double the administration, double the pension costs,” he said.
Illinois is the only state in the nation that spent more than $1 billion on school administration in 2016, according to a report from the Metropolitan Planning Council.
Dissolving school districts has proven politically difficult in the state, hence the old joke that the hardest animal to kill in Illinois is a school mascot.
The new law also dissolves road districts responsible for fewer than 15 linear miles of pavement.