Editorial: Two towns, one fire chief, good stewardship

This isn't the first time we've written about the need to make a serious dent in the elephantine network of governmental units that weigh mightily on Illinois taxpayers.

It should come as no surprise that Illinois eclipses the other 49 states in sheer number of taxing bodies. It has a third more than Texas, which ranks second.

In recent years, we've encouraged efforts to join forces when it made clear sense and we've thrown up the caution sign when such efforts smacked of a potential power grab.

There is a middle ground between the need to combine forces to save money and the need to keep things separate to prevent empire building.

Today we pause our prodding and poking to offer applause to a common sense effort in the Fox Valley.

There has been talk for several years now of finding efficiencies amid Carpentersville, West Dundee, East Dundee and Sleepy Hollow, a cluster of communities in northern Kane County. What about a combined police force? Two towns becoming one?

None of the concepts discussed would be easy to enact, and issues of who controls what are always sticky.

Change is hard. We get that.

None of these things have come to pass, but the small villages of East and West Dundee last week did agree to share a fire chief. Sometimes you have to celebrate the small victories, hoping that they'll blossom into something more substantial.

West Dundee Fire Chief Randy Freise also will take on oversight of the East Dundee and Countryside Fire Protection District.

How did this happen? East Dundee Chief Steve Schmitendorf plans to retire at the end of the year. The two towns saw an opportunity.

The rest of us can all learn something from this simple act. While no one had to be laid off or reassigned to make this happen, someone missed out on a chance to be the East Dundee chief.

A small but important sacrifice - for the sake of taxpayers.

We understand that in public sector jobs, as in private sector jobs, there is a powerful and natural reluctance to cede authority and a strong impetus to protect one's friends and co-workers. There is community pride. There is a sense of competition. There is ego.

The big difference between the private sector and the public sector is that in the private sector, the market drives change in an organization. The same forces aren't always at work in the public sector.

There, true leaders are always aware that they are servants of the public and owe it to taxpayers to provide good service for a reasonable price. True leaders in the public sector treat the public bank account as they would their own and look for ways to find economies of scale, as East Dundee and West Dundee have done. True leaders look at departures, such as the East Dundee chief's, as opportunities to do things more efficiently.

This is the important work of governance. This particular move may save only $75,000 a year, but it's progress. And every $75,000 our local governments can find is $75,000 less we have to pay in property taxes.

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