Rauner signs local government consolidation bill
Senate Bill 3 marks an important step in the right direction for local government consolidation, but there’s more to be done.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a local government consolidation bill into law Aug. 14. Senate Bill 3, now Public Act 100-0107, will allow communities in Illinois to hold referendums on whether to dissolve or consolidate townships, and will make it easier for townships to get rid of unnecessary road districts, and to pursue other reforms.
Under the new law, township boards will be able to hold referendums for voters, asking them whether they want to dissolve their townships.
The law calls for township boards seeking a dissolution referendum to hold hearings after publishing information about the referendum online and in local newspapers. Once a township is abolished, all rights, powers, duties, assets, property, liabilities, obligations and responsibilities of the township are transferred to the municipality or county within which the township is located. The law also allows for referendums to be held on the merging and combination of townships, with the responsibilities of dissolved townships to be handed to the consolidated or receiving townships.
Though the law extends to all Illinois counties the abilities formerly held exclusively by McHenry, DuPage and Lake counties to hold backdoor referendums on consolidation, the new law stipulates that existing contracts with government workers from dissolved townships must be maintained, thereby limiting the taxpayer savings. (The law exempts from this requirement actions taken by McHenry, DuPage and Lake counties prior to January 2018.)
The law also allows for townships with a population of less than 3 million to more easily consolidate small road districts. Referendums on the abolishment of road districts with less than 15 miles of road may be called for by a majority vote of a qualifying township’s board of trustees. If the referendum is successful, the highway commissioner of the abolished road district will step down by the later of the January following the referendum or when the commissioner’s term expires. The township board will be allowed to contract with the county, a municipality or private contractor to fulfill the defunct road district’s duties.
While SB 3 is an important step in the right direction, it should not be the last piece of local government consolidation reform the Prairie State enacts. The law does not do enough to curb the major local cost drivers reflected on Illinoisans’ property tax bills.
The law will also make it harder for residents of Lake, McHenry and DuPage counties – where homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the state – to effectively stem the growing cost of their property tax bills. Formerly, voters in those areas could pursue more aggressive reforms that cut down on duplicative layers of costly government and the high costs of workers they employ. The new law prohibits governments, including Lake, McHenry and DuPage counties starting in January 2018, from terminating contracts of union-represented employees of dissolved units of local government. Starting in January 2018, taxpayers in those areas will still have to pay for the workers of offices they vote to get rid of.
Illinois has more units of local government than any other state in the country with nearly 7,000. And because of all these unnecessary units of local government, Illinoisans’ property taxes are among the highest in the nation.
If Illinoisans want to see comprehensive property tax reform, especially in Lake, McHenry and DuPage counties, more must be done.