What does “government efficiency” mean, anyway? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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What does “government efficiency” mean, anyway?

Flickr user Jepcke (cc)

Techy improvements such as this “Green Screen Studio” in Deer Creek Middle School’s Library were funded in part by Lake Forest’s special service areas.

We often think of government as a feedback loop: Resident concerns, needs and tax dollars go in, government policies and services come out. If government efficiency were a mode of transportation on this loop, it would be a sleek passenger train, providing mass service quickly, effectively and without interruption. By contrast, Illinois’ collection of 6,963 units of government can best be described as a gas-guzzling semi-truck inching along in rush hour traffic. This staggering number of often overlapping governments is just plain bureaucrazy.

However, to automatically equate the consolidation or elimination of government units with better, more efficient delivery of services is flawed thinking. For instance, findings from the Illinois Local Government Consolidation Task Force demonstrate that consolidation does not always result in cost savings. Moreover, recently, a Lake Forest motion to dissolve five special service areas in the interest of equalizing taxes has left School District 67 grappling with an $86,000 annual decrease in their budget. Equitable distribution of tax burden is a good thing, but in this case the same amount of services are expected for the same population and service area, but with less revenue. It seems like there may have been a more prudent path forward.

Instead, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) believes effective use of taxpayer dollars is best achieved on a case-by-case basis. Take, for example, Evanston’s recent consolidation of Evanston Township services to the municipal level. It began with a close look at the City’s ability to deliver key services as effectively as Township-level administrators. Next, a referendum was held and passed by a two-to-one-margin. This translated into Ill. Sen. Daniel Biss working to dissolve the Township and transfer its roles to the City, an act that reduced administrative overhead. Most importantly, the $165,025 in initial savings was put to work for residents as a part of the General Assistance Program.

In a time when budget crunches are ubiquitous, MPC is committed to helping governments do more with less—specifically, providing high quality services as cost-effectively as possible. Sometimes that means rethinking borders, or revenue sources, or partners. Or sometimes it means rethinking the unit of governance itself.

Successes like Evanston’s, along with collaborative efforts such as The Municipal Partnering Initiative, show the value of government efficiency. Ultimately, these measures are only successful if they improve service delivery to residents and make better use of scarce resources. Join MPC Tuesday Dec. 9 for our lunchtime roundtable discussion, We’re All in This Together: Improving Government Efficiency. You’ll learn how we can move toward eliminating redundancy and, most importantly, how communities can make meaningful changes to optimize the delivery of quality services.


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