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CCFB News» November 2022

Manifolds, Manolos and Manure

11/03/2022 @ 1:00 pm | By Bona Heinsohn, CAE

Article Seven of the Illinois Constitution provides for the creation of local governments. County boards. Municipalities. Townships. Special districts. Units of local government. These units have the authority to exercise limited governmental power. Some can levy taxes. Some have separate governing boards.

 

It is also within Article Seven that confusion reigns. The Article allows for the creation of units of local government. But not for their classification. So, deciding what classification a local government does or does not fit in is a recurring problem in Illinois.

 

Illinois is home to townships. School and park districts. Road and bridge districts. Community colleges. Police and fire departments. And the random water, housing, cultural, cemetery, and mosquito abatement districts.

 

Illinois has enough local governments that no one can even agree on the actual total. The Civic Federation, a non-partisan research organization tallies the count at 8,923. Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative research organization, comes in a shade lower at 6,918. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Illinois has 6,032 local governments. The Illinois Department of Revenue identifies 6,042 units of local government. And the Illinois Comptroller reports 8,529 units of local governments.

 

Differences in the total numbers are likely due to how each agency defines ‘local government’ and what data they collect about each unit. The Department of Revenue collects data on “taxing districts” which would exclude those districts that do not have taxing authority.

 

The Census Bureau excludes districts that do not have a separate governing board. Often misclassified units are road and bridge districts, library districts, and forest preserve districts; the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is one such example.

 

Am I the only person who thinks that Illinois has too many local governments when we can’t even agree on the total number of local governments?

 

Illinois has 17 townships whose boundaries are identical to the municipalities (or in Cicero’s situation, a town) they serve. Those townships are Alton. Berwyn. Bloomington. Capital. Champaign. Cicero. Cunningham. East St. Louis. Granite City. Macomb. Oak Park. Peoria. Quincy. River Forest. Warsaw. And Zion.

 

Nearly 50% of Illinois’ townships have fewer than 1,000 residents. Residents in the above townships are paying twice when in theory one entity could provide all of the services. However, what works for residents in northern Illinois may not work for residents in central or southern Illinois or vice versa.

 

I realize that townships are a sensitive subject for many Illinoisans. And my purpose isn’t to advocate one way or the other but to draw attention to what appears to be an abundancy of local governments.

 

When individuals live under multiple layers of government, it becomes difficult to participate in the democratic process. Difficult to find the right unit of government to contact regarding a problem or concern. And the sheer volume also makes it harder for oversight from state or federal authorities.

 

Consolidation has the potential to simplify Illinois’ democratic processes and residents’ lives.

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