Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash
Families in New York have a cap on how fast their property taxes can grow.
- By Sawyer Middeleer, Research Assistant. Edited by Josh Ellis.
- September 18, 2018
The Metropolitan Planning Council is devoting new time and resources to promoting Effective Government. Local governments in Illinois face severe fiscal pressures, and MPC stands ready to help them—but we often find that outdated laws and practices of the State of Illinois hinder the ability of local governments to creatively solve their problems. In contrast, many other state governments have successfully developed effective government best practices that could be adapted here in Illinois. New York, in particular, has a model worth further examination, both for the progress made and lessons learned.
Effective Government Actions in New York State
In 2011, the State of New York passed the New York State Property Tax Freeze Credit Law, which capped the annual growth of property tax levies to the rate of inflation. The law incentivizes local governments to reduce growth of property taxes by awarding real property tax rebates to homeowners in districts that successfully limit tax increases.
In response, a coalition led by Albany County published two multi-year plans, in 2015 and 2017, that contain innovative solutions to service sharing, consolidation and operational efficiency. In total, the plans’ recommendations will save local governments over $22 million in annual savings—far more than originally projected. Examples include:
- Consolidate emergency dispatch operations of 4 towns through the County Sheriff
- Structure a transportation sharing agreement between three school districts
- Create a countywide workforce database for inter-jurisdictional workforce management
- Consolidate vehicle maintenance and repair services within the county
- Develop an energy efficiency program with service sharing agreements for green projects such as LED lighting and solar power
Participating governments began by identifying programs that were resource-intensive, inefficiently managed, or redundant. The coalition developed a toolkit of strategies for intergovernmental service sharing, cooperative purchasing, and capital planning to address government efficiency challenges in all nineteen participating local governments.
Key to Albany County’s government efficiency planning was top-to-bottom coordination among local governments, the county, and the New York Department of State. Support from county and state leaders was instrumental in breaking down political barriers and assisting with up-front capital costs, and shows what local governments can achieve when political will is aligned at multiple levels.
However, despite the tremendous savings realized by Albany County local governments, it is not without its criticisms. New York’s law incentivizes governments to realize savings through any means—including less positive and innovative practices like layoffs and deferred maintenance. Many of the largest cost savings realized in Albany County came from contract renegotiations, position eliminations and reduction of employee benefits—rather than significantly improving how government bodies operate or how services are delivered.
Meanwhile, Back In Illinois…
Here in Illinois, we face our own challenges with ever-rising property tax bills, fragmented service delivery and a mosaic of 7,000+ governmental units that each have their own priorities, expenses and claims to tax dollars. Unlike in New York, few government leaders in the State of Illinois have recognized how such fragmentation leads to inefficient allocation of taxpayers’ money and harms overall quality of life for residents.
To address these problems, MPC co-founded Transform Illinois, which is leading the effort to improve the effectiveness of government service delivery statewide. The unifying aim is to support local governments as they adapt to today’s realities, delivering high-quality services and infrastructure efficiently. Transform Illinois has been instrumental to the passage of several pieces of state legislation, such as SB3, which allows counties to consolidate local units of government within their jurisdiction and also allows neighboring townships to dissolve or merge. But state government still must do more to open pathways for local leaders to govern more effectively.
While each state confronts unique governance challenges, many of the best practices identified in New York could be adapted to address the issues local governments grapple with in Illinois. Imagine if state leaders dedicated resources to provide incentives for local governments to work together. With a little help, local leaders could have all the support they need to implement lasting improvements for residents.
Sawyer Middeleer is a former MPC Research Assistant and first year MPP candidate at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy studying Data Analytics and Municipal Finance