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Crete, Illinois is working to manage its spending by collaborating with other municipalities.
This post was authored by MPC Research Assistant Patrick Leow.
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. This installment focuses on a recent Metropolitan Mayors Caucus report on how an estimated 95 percent of Chicagoland municipalities engage in some service sharing initiatives.
Yes, discussing the intricacies of local government service sharing might not be your idea of a thrill-a-minute ride. Governmental cooperation often happens in spheres like sharing snow-clearing units, or jointly purchasing new technological software. Yet, this low-level service sharing happens in virtually every municipality across the state, and has the great potential to make government work better for the taxpayer.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Transform Illinois have been consistent advocates for more streamlined, consolidated local government in Illinois. Our work continues to be driven by the core principle that government should optimize delivery of vital services in high-quality, cost-effective ways.
In an era of political polarization, sweeping reform of governmental organization will likely be difficult to achieve in the short term. We cannot pin our hopes solely on statewide legislation to defragment Illinois’s government system. That means local governments end up working within their means to make their lives—and their residents' lives—easier and better.
A recent Metropolitan Mayors Caucus report highlights how municipalities are developing their own solutions to this goal of government efficiency through municipal service sharing. Released in July 2015, the Northeastern Illinois Local Government Shared Service Report is a survey of 117 municipalities in the Chicago region. It reveals a robust history of local-level cooperation between municipal governments to share services, avoid unnecessary duplication and more efficiently spend taxpayer dollars.
Many of these service sharing agreements concern the nuts and bolts of municipal government. Governments most frequently found common cause when it came to:
- centralizing the dispatch of emergency services,
- finding the benefits of economies of scale in jointly purchasing goods and services from an external vendor, and
- in providing public works operations.
Encouragingly, a full 95 percent of municipalities that responded to the Mayors Caucus survey indicated that they were already engaged in some form of service sharing.
Municipal service sharing can lead to big savings for municipalities. By moving to a DuPage County-wide emergency dispatch system, the Village of Woodridge saved an estimated $1.2 million per year, equivalent to 37 percent of their property tax revenues in 2014. And the Village of Deerfield managed to save more than $350,000 a year by joining a consortium that utilizes geospatial technology.
Road transportation infrastructure assets have proven to be a critical area of importance for Illinois’ future economic prospects. The Village of Crete saved about $25,000 by borrowing road crack sealing equipment from the Village of Monee, rather than buying equipment of its own. Additionally, Woodridge saved approximately $8,300 when its officials brought in equipment and staff from neighboring Bolingbrook’s Public Works & Development Department.
Municipalities also cooperated to improve their stormwater assets. Since 2010, public works departments belonging to members of the Municipal Partnering Initiative have jointly bid for sewage-related work. Cumulatively in 2013, municipalities who elected to purchase sewer lining services saved more than $50,000. Members were also able to save more than $47,000 in 2014 by jointly procuring sewer televising, a method of assessing the condition of a sewer line.
These small-scale collaborations in diverse service areas reveal that intergovernmental partnerships are not new to Illinois governments. Transform Illinois’ desire for greater governmental efficiency builds upon a foundation provided by these long-standing agreements, and shows that governmental agencies can put aside territorial and political concerns to ensure that governmental functions are transparent and save taxpayers money. In short, these are battle-tested strategies.
Unfortunately, municipalities often find themselves limited to these important but modest successes within the current legislative framework. Illinois legislators should free municipalities to make even tougher decisions and more effective change.
The Mayors Caucus report’s author, Jennifer Kim, astutely notes that municipalities can find huge benefits from state aid. Some of her proposals include grants to ease startup costs, higher-quality training and workshops. And she throws her weight behind efforts currently making their way through the state legislature that remove barriers to intergovernmental collaboration, to “allow municipalities to work together as they have been for decades.”
In our era of constrained fiscal spending and gridlock at the state level and beyond, local governments in Northeastern Illinois should be lauded for their efforts to keep things moving smoothly.
Curious about other initiatives around the Chicago region and beyond? Take a look at the rest of the Taking Action series.