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CCFB News» June 2022

Ongoing Efforts to Create Effective and Efficient Government

06/06/2022 @ 4:15 pm

Ongoing Efforts to Create Effective and Efficient Government

(Originally published in the November/December issue of LINK)


While local governments are created to provide services, we need to consider whether a surplus of these units can lead to inefficiencies, such as duplication of services, doubling up on equipment and/or infrastructure, and overlapping contracts with the same provider. Or do those local units lead to responsive and cost-effective services?

We can reference the Illinois legislature’s interest in investigating local governments and their organization, powers, jurisdiction, functions, and inter-relationships. As a result of their interest, a state commission was created in 2011, raising the question: is this system of governance the most efficient approach to meeting citizens’ needs?

The commission’s report advised that efforts to eliminate layers of government should be locally driven and not state mandated. The report also suggested that in many cases, consolidation might not guarantee tax relief as much as intergovernmental sharing of resources.

As the commission found, there’s more than one approach to gaining efficiency through government restructuring. People most often think of consolidation, which is the lateral merger of similar units of government. But vertical integration is also an option, where a general-purpose unit of government absorbs the responsibilities of a
special-purpose unit of government within its jurisdiction. There’s also intergovernmental cooperation, which is the coordination of services and sharing of resources. And, finally, government bodies can simply be dissolved.

There are pros and cons to having so many units of government. On the plus side is proximity. Having close connections with elected officials accommodates access. Small units of government also can be more responsive and sensitive to local needs.

On the downside, small units often have limited resources. They might struggle to achieve efficiencies of scale and cannot afford professional staff. Small jurisdictions can also struggle with a lack of adequate funding and a smaller pool of candidates to serve as elected officials.

Prioritization of expenditures can be affected. General-purpose units must allocate limited resources across competing needs. Conversely, special-purpose units focus
on funding their single, assigned responsibility without having to consider other priorities.

Whether government units consolidate, integrate, cooperate, or dissolve, one or more of the dynamics listed above will likely be affected. Voters will want to consider
whether one of these approaches could work for them locally.

Population affects the availability and delivery of government services. In rural areas, special-purpose units of government are often the provider of services that would otherwise be provided by municipalities in more densely populated areas. Where municipalities are few and far between, counties and townships are left to take up the slack. Where that happens, voters often opt to establish special-purpose units. Even if the county service is an option, voters sometimes prefer special purpose units that, like municipalities, are more localized.

One thing is for sure: we have a patchwork of local government that varies widely from one area of the state to another, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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