Brian Costin Mar. 4, 2014, 10:14am

When it comes to local taxing bodies and local property taxes, Illinois is an extreme outlier in comparison to the rest of the nation. We rank first in number of local taxing bodies, with 6,963, and have the second-highest property tax rate in the nation.

But this isn’t news for Illinois residents who have looked at a property-tax bill recently.

These issues were topics discussed at a recent event called, “Smart Streamlining: DuPage County Idea Forum” hosted by the Better Government Association at National Louis University in Lisle. I sat on the panel, which also included DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, Illinois State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Township Officials of Cook County Administrative Coordinator Bob Porter.

The event was moderated by Madeleine Doubek of Reboot Illinois, and afterward she wrote a column recapping the event and delving into the topic of how many local taxing bodies into which she and her neighbors are paying. She pays into 10.

Frustrated with the high level of taxes that I pay, Madeleine’s column inspired me to take a closer look into the topic as well.  The number of local taxing bodies that I came up with is up to 18 local government agencies, depending on the way you calculate it.

Here’s a look at what I found.

I started with the general purpose local governments. In Illinois, those three layers are county, municipal and township.

1. Lake County

2. Village of Buffalo Grove

3. Vernon Township

I am one of 61 percent of all Illinoisans who have three layers of general purpose local government to pay into. According to a study by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, Illinois has more layers of general purpose local government than any other state by a wide margin.

Ninety-five percent of Americans have two layers or less of general purpose local government, and Illinois is one of only 10 states that have a third layer. In fact, more than half of the nation’s residents who are governed by three layers of general purpose local government live in Illinois.

All other states have two layers or fewer. Some states, such as Hawaii and Rhode Island, only have one layer of general purpose local government.

 The Illinois comptroller counts township road-and-bridge districts as separate taxing bodies. In many cases, road-and-bridge districts’ budgets and decision-making processes are independent of the townships with which they are associated.

4. Vernon Township Road and Bridge

Next up are all of the education districts.

5. Aptakisic-Tripp Consolidated School District #102

6. Stevenson High School District #125

7. College of Lake County #532

Not appearing on my property-tax bill was the regional office of education, into which my local school districts funnel taxpayer dollars.

8. Lake County Regional Office of Education

There were a number of other special purpose local taxing authorities on my property tax bill as well, including:

9. Vernon Area Public Library

10. Buffalo Grove Park District

11. Lake County Forest Preserve District

But not all local taxing bodies appear on your property tax bills. Other agencies are paid for by other forms of taxes or funds from other government agencies. This includes regional transportation districts, each with their own boards and budgets. The primary funding sources for these agencies are sales taxes and revenues from the state of Illinois.

12. Metra

13. Pace

14. Regional Transportation Authority

But that’s not the end of the local governments in my area. There are a number of other local agencies for which primary funding comes from the government as well. While not traditional taxing bodies, these agencies were created by state or local law and get the majority of their money from tax revenues in one form or another.

15. Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, or CMAP

16. Lake County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

17. Northwest Water Commission

CMAP is funded by the state of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Transportation. The Lake County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau is funded by the state and local hotel tax revenues. The community of Buffalo Grove is a member in the Northwest Water Commission, which is composed of the four communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.

Finally, on my property tax bill is something called, “special road improvement vernon gravel.” Essentially this is a township-wide property tax, and revenues collected are distributed to a number of the different taxing bodies in Vernon Township, including my hometown of Buffalo Grove. Pass-through property tax arrangements reduce transparency and make it harder to determine who’s responsible for where my property taxes go.

18. Vernon Township Special Road Improvement – gravel

Like many Illinoisans, I have way too many local government agencies to keep track of. This unique Illinois phenomenon has a number of negative public policy consequences.

First, it makes it hard for citizens to remain educated and engage with all the different local government agencies. It also hurts the media’s ability to cover local government sufficiently, making it harder for citizens to hold those agencies accountable and prevent corruption.

All those government agencies come at a very high price. Illinois has the second-highest property tax rate and the 12th-highest sales tax rate in the nation. All of the property taxes, and a large portion of the sales taxes, go to local governments. High taxes are a significant contributing factor to the state’s high out-migration rate. Many of our former residents are moving to states with much better tax climates.

Our study, “Too much government: Illinois’ thousands of local governments,” takes a deeper look at this issue and recommends giving citizens additional power to eliminate redundant or unnecessary layers of government.

All citizens should have the right to determine the form and function of their local governments. Unfortunately, state laws make it very easy to create new government bodies, but it’s very hard to get rid of them.

Big changes are needed in Illinois.

Brian Costin is Director of Government Reform for the Illinois Policy Institute. 

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