Experts discuss government consolidation at Lisle forum
Lisle forum tackles trimming government
Some experts say Illinois has a huge number of local governmental agencies because residents wanted the services those entities provide.
But others point out it's very difficult to eliminate a taxing body after it's been established. They argue voters should be given the power to decide if a local unit of government is worth keeping.
"The public should have a say in regards to the function and form of their local government," said Brian Costin, director of government reform with the Illinois Policy Institute.
Costin made his remarks during a Monday night idea forum and panel discussion about government consolidation at National Louis University in Lisle.
The talk was organized by the Better Government Association, which is hoping to get Illinois residents involved in efforts to trim some of the state's nearly 7,000 separate units of local government.
While Illinois has more taxing bodies than any other state, BGA officials told the forum crowd of more than 100 people that they don't want consolidation forced on anyone.
"The last thing I would want to see is Springfield mandating the wholesale elimination of units of government," said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the BGA. "That would be worse than doing nothing."
Shaw said what state lawmakers ought to do is let local voters decide if they want to see the consolidation or elimination of a unit of government that serves them.
"Local individuals have no control over these 7,000 units of government," he said. "They're creatures of the state."
But Robert Porter, a former township supervisor of Lemont Township, said many units of government weren't created by the state.
"They were generated by residents and citizens who felt they weren't getting adequate services from their larger units of government," said Porter, adding the larger units are municipalities, counties and the state.
"These things were almost all driven by referendum," he said.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin asked audience members if they would set up a system like Illinois. "Of course not," he said.
"The reality is all these layers of government cost us money that could be saved if their functions were consolidated with similar agencies," Cronin said.
Porter said he supports some consolidation. Still, he said, certain requirements would need to be met, including an open dialogue initiated by residents.
Overall, Porter said he believes local leaders are more accessible to the public. He also said smaller governments, such as townships, usually aren't the ones with cash flow problems.
"They've learned to manage because they never had a whole lot of money to deal with," he said.
Still, Costin said the sheer number of local government units makes it difficult for residents to become educated about them and participate.
For example, residents in the Kane County portion of Elgin are represented by at least 16 local government agencies, according to Costin. He said it would be "virtually impossible" for those residents to go to all the meetings for all those agencies.
Shaw said he realizes that seeking consolidation throughout the state is a process that is going to take years. In the meantime, the BGA is planning to host more forums across the state to continue the discussion.
"What we're after is to give local voters power over their own lives, and more importantly, over their own tax dollars," Shaw said.
He said every unit of government should be efficient and cost-effective.
"If a unit of government is, it should stay in place," Shaw said. "If it isn't, we should find a way to either combine it with others or, perhaps, eliminate it."