Two measures making it easier to abolish some units of local government were signed into law Monday by Gov. Bruce Rauner. One of the changes was modeled after 2013 legislation that paved the way for such consolidation efforts in DuPage County.
"Our families are struggling with the highest property taxes in America," Rauner said during a signing ceremony at the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference building in Oak Brook. "We need to bring our property taxes down, and one of the ways we can do that is to bring about a consolidation of local governments."
The first measure gives all counties in Illinois the power to dissolve local governments that have governing boards appointed by those counties. Previously, state law allowed only DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties to consolidate local governmental bodies.
It also gives boards of townships that are conterminous with municipalities the ability to seek voter approval to dissolve the townships.
The other measure the governor signed gives townships in counties with less than 3 million residents the ability to seek permission from voters to absorb road districts in their townships.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, who sponsored both measures, said there are too many units of local government in Illinois that are duplicative or obsolete.
"So I'm very proud to be here today as we start to put in place the foundation where we can start to repeal and consolidate a lot of these units of government," said Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin says the county has shown consolidation "can and does work." He launched an initiative several years ago calling on 24 local governmental entities to make structural and operational reforms.
The state law approved in 2013 gave DuPage the power to eliminate up to 13 local governments, including fire protection, sanitary and mosquito abatement districts. So far, the county has consolidated four local government entities.
"We're currently working on two more dissolutions," Cronin said. "We've only done this where it makes sense and where real savings can be realized."
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said the county is trying to consolidate the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District with the village of Lake in the Hills. But he said the sanitary district is attempting to acquire land in Kane County to thwart the consolidation effort.
"Shenanigans like that prove why (the new law) is a sorely needed step in the right direction," Franks said.
Franks said the taxpayers can't afford -- or even keep track of -- the state's nearly 7,000 separate taxing bodies, including counties, townships and fire protection districts. Illinois tops the nation in having the most units of government.
"We don't even know what these guys are doing," Franks said. "They are operating in the shadows."
While Rauner said the changes are "a good, positive step," he stressed that's just a step.
"We have quite a ways to go," he said.
There were 27 recommendations made by the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandate Task Force that was headed by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti of Wheaton. The measures Rauner signed on Monday reflect five of them.
"These bills deal with how elected officials can help drive consolidation," Rauner said. "We need to empower the people of Illinois."
If residents are able to propose eliminating taxing bodies, Rauner said, "I think the process will accelerate. It will take on a larger scale, and we can achieve even greater results."