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With rural governments in mind, CGS Senior Research Scholar Norman Walzer and Research Associate Andy Blanke have developed Guidebook to Modernizing Local Service Delivery Systems, where they discuss the Local Efficiency Assessment Program (LEAP), and the Local Government Efficiency Assessment Dashboard. Concerns about rising costs of local public services, property tax increases, the large number of governments in Illinois, and stagnant or shrinking populations have caused local public officials especially in rural areas to re-examine arrangements for providing public services. Existing delivery systems started under substantially different travel and communications environments. County populations are now smaller in many instances than when the governmental structures were created and information technology now offers new and less expensive ways to deliver essential services. In 2014, Governor Bruce Rauner created the Task Force on Governmental Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates, chaired by Lt. Governor Evelyn P. Sanguinetti, to find ways to reduce the costs of public services and property taxes. The Task Force deliberations resulted in legislation enabling local officials and taxpayers to change government structure and make arrangements for delivering services when needed. The Task Force report in December 2015 made 27 recommendations for statutory changes permitting local elected officials and residents to more easily modify the governmental arrangements for providing services. In some instances, local leaders can consolidate small units of government that now provide limited services with small staff. In other cases, the legislation enables coterminous governments to combine agencies. In no instance, do the Task Force recommendations require actions by local officials; rather, it removes barriers and enables local leaders to adjust delivery systems for local services. The resulting legislative changes are shown in Appendix Three. Even when statutory authority exists, making changes to the current delivery system is difficult because of personal interests and general resistance to change. Likewise, cost-savings are not always immediate or apparent so policymakers may be reluctant to make adjustments even though significant cost-savings may occur in the future. At the same time, however, delaying these decisions can increase the costs to each taxpayer in the future, especially in areas expecting population declines. The higher tax burden can make a county less competitive in attracting businesses or populations. By Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) estimates, 52 rural counties in Illinois will experience declines in population between 2015 and 2025. It is likely that in many instances these declines will continue in the future. In some counties, the loss in population will be 10 percent or more. In addition, the population composition will change with substantial growth in the elderly population cohorts and declines or small growth in the proportion of school age populations. The result is that the relative mix of services needed will change by 2025 and beyond which may mean additional expenditures. The importance and impact of property taxes increased with the passage of tighter federal limitations on state and local taxes (SALT) as deductions in calculating income taxes. The fact that Illinois ties with New Jersey for the highest property taxes will pressure local officials in Illinois to find ways to provide needed services at lower costs or replace property taxes with other revenues when possible. Finally, there is growing concern about the rising costs of public pensions, especially in school districts where a high proportion of local expenditures are for pensions rather than classroom activities. These costs, combined with shrinking populations, may require school consolidations along with other efficiency measures. Recognizing these likely changes, the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council commissioned the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies to prepare a Guidebook with materials to help local public officials examine the potential for changes in the local public service delivery system. The Guidebook focuses solely on local interests, data, and preferences to find alternative delivery arrangements to reduce costs and property taxes. There is no set arrangement or prescription changing the delivery arrangements. Rather, the Guidebook helps local officials, administrators and residents think through options where services can be provided in different ways by agencies collaborating or rearranging their efforts. The Guidebook focuses on services likely to be needed in 2025, compared with the resources expected at that time based on perceptions of local practitioners and community leaders. There is no attempt to single out specific government units for elimination even though local decisions may cause that to happen. Instead, the intent is to help local decision-makers provide the highest quality of services at the lowest costs through organized efforts of local public officials, employees and taxpayers.
public services, property taxes, public pensions, Illinois, school consolidations
Walzer, Norman and Blanke, Andy, "Modernizing Local Service Delivery Systems: Local Efficiency Assessment Program" (2018). Reports, Whitepapers, Articles, and Other Publications. 28.
This Guidebook was funded by the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, chaired by Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti.
Center for Governmental Studies
Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies