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Column: Too much government?

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 4:43 p.m. CDT
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David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley or 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

Slowly but surely over the years, government agencies have been merging around here. 

The evidence often is seen in the clunky, hyphenated names in government entities. The East Coloma-Nelson and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico school districts are an example. So are the Cherry Grove-Shannon and Rock Creek-Lima townships in Carroll County.

In the past couple of years, the balkanized Rock Falls school districts have become less so. Riverdale merged into the Rock Falls Elementary district, while East Coloma and Nelson combined. 

Perhaps someday all of Rock Falls’ schools will become one. I’m sure some would say that would never, ever happen.

But keep in mind that property taxes for schools are considerably higher in Rock Falls. Last year, one of the local superintendents told me that this was the case because each of those districts requires separate administrations. 

With the worsening pension crisis in Illinois, the state is giving less and less money for local school districts. That puts more pressure on local taxpayers. According to numbers from earlier this year, a taxpayer with a $100,000 house in Rock Falls is paying a third more in school property taxes than one in Sterling – a difference of about $500. How much more can you push Rock Falls taxpayers?

In September, the Sterling and Rock Falls city councils created the Twin City Joint Fire Command. Officials also have talked about combining other services in the two towns, including 911. 

The recent consolidations aren’t exactly a wave, but they’re worth mentioning. So why do these mergers make sense?

They save money, cut bureaucracy and, in the case of schools, provide more class offerings for students.

In Illinois, we have a mind-boggling 6,994 government entities, more than any other state. 

Chicago author Richard Longworth makes a passionate case for consolidating governments in his 2008 book, “Caught in the Middle.”

Before advances in communications and transportation, he said, townships and counties were necessary. Not so anymore. 

“[I]t makes no sense for the balkanized counties of the Midwest to retain their individual governments, their overlapping and competing jurisdictions, their redundant bureaucracies,” Longsworth writes. “Most counties and county seats even have their own economic development offices, competing fiercely with neighboring towns…”

“By all means, keep the courthouses, but turn them into museums, which is what they really are.”

Even for those agencies that seek consolidation, their path is difficult. For instance, if a single township wanted to combine with another, it couldn’t do so without the approval of its county electorate. That happens rarely. 

In recent years, we’ve made some progress in consolidation around here. But is it enough?

David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

 

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