Map produced by Madeline Shepherd
Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will highlight efforts to improve government efficiency.
The City of Naperville and Naperville Township are setting an example for other local governments to follow. Both entities have voted to proceed on a possible intergovernmental agreement to merge the Township’s road maintenance services with those provided by the City. Earlier in February, Gov. Rauner was in Naperville to laud the two jurisdictions for wisely evaluating and adapting for how to deliver road services to constituents most effectively.
As a founding partner of Transform Illinois, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) loves to see this kind of thoughtful action and collaboration. Transform Illinois is a group of local elected officials, civic organizations and research institutions dedicated to promoting and supporting local government efficiency efforts in Illinois, including more effective service delivery.
Illinois has 1,391 road districts that maintain 73,000 miles of roads. MPC and a group of University of Chicago students examined road districts in Illinois and found that the 59 special purpose road districts—in other words, those in rural areas that stand alone from a township, city or county—are probably not good candidates for consolidation. But what about districts like Naperville Township’s that are located in denser urban areas and operate under another jurisdiction’s umbrella? These road districts are typically responsible for maintaining a maze of roadways unincorporated into the county that weave in and out of incorporated areas.
In Naperville, at least, City officials believe they could service the 16 miles of roads currently maintained by the township for $800,000 less each year. The City of Naperville already maintains more than 500 miles of roadways—adding 16 more, they reason, shouldn’t be that big a deal.
Under the new proposal, the Naperville Township Road District would remain in place as a taxing district, but the township would hire the City of Naperville to service the roads at 43 percent lower cost, saving taxpayer money.
How does the City create these cost efficiencies while providing the same level of service to the same amount of roads?
The City benefits from economies of scale in terms of materials and labor. Services delivered to unincorporated properties are also already heavily subsidized. Unincorporated property owners pay much less than the true cost of servicing unincorporated properties. The rest of the cost is picked up by incorporated property owners that still have to pay the road district tax but receive no services from the Township Road District. With the City taking over road services, taxpayer money from incorporated areas will be spent much more efficiently.
It’s no surprise that many local governments have responded to the economic and political climate of recent years by forming partnerships like this one. We’ve highlighted a few of these in our Taking Action blog series. With almost 7,000 units of local government, Illinois could use more of this type of innovation and collaboration.
There is a lot of talk around the state about ways to enhance government efficiency. Gov. Rauner and Lt. Gov. Sanguinetti recently announced four legislative initiatives that would eliminate barriers and empower local governments to choose consolidation if that option best serves their constituencies’ needs. The State legislature should support these recommendations.
Removing barriers and providing tools to eliminate or consolidate redundant and ineffective units of government is a great start. But it shouldn’t stop there. Local governments also need to do their part, digging into their balance sheets to identify opportunities for creating more efficient government structures, partnerships and service delivery. Communities throughout Illinois should follow Naperville’s example and heed the call, going beyond talk of responsible governance to actually taking action.
Curious about other initiatives around the Chicago region and beyond? Take a look at the rest of the Taking Action series.