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Out Here: Many governments, little scrutiny

Many officials are relatively anonymous to the public

Published: Thursday, June 26, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

We've got a total of 231 government entities – or taxing districts – in Lake County. That's one for every 3,039 residents in this county of 702,120.

Who is watching all these entities? All of their financial reports should be on the state comptroller's website, so that's one way to keep track of them.

As for the media, we are only covering a handful regularly, and that's worsening with the layoffs of reporters everywhere.

We like to have taxing districts for just about any public function – parks, forest preserves, libraries, fire departments, water service. With the exception of 17 counties, Illinois still sticks with township government, even though most of the country gets along without it.

Last month, Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies issued a report on townships. It found that other government entities could "readily" handle townships' major services – maintaining roads, assessing properties for tax purposes, providing aid to the poor, and running special programs for seniors, veterans and youth.

According to the center's report, Illinois residents have historically shied away from giving broad taxing powers to any government.

"When the public demand for any government services in a community exceeded the community's taxing capacity, residents typically found it preferable to create new governments, with new but also very limited taxing powers, to provide the needed specific service," the study says.

Hence, fire protection districts, library districts, park districts, drainage districts, sanitation districts, even a few mosquito abatement districts.

According to the state comptroller's office, Illinois has 45 different types of local governments. The total is 8,466 local government units. Take that, every other state.

Illinois has 35 percent more units of local government than Texas, which has the second largest number, according to NIU. Texas, by the way, has more than twice the population of our state.

The report presents arguments both for and against having so many local governments.

Regardless of those arguments, it says, voters have limited control when there are so many local governments that most voters are unaware of their existence.

"If voters are unaware of what governments are serving them, the ultimate purpose of democratic government is not being fully realized," the report says.

A lot of people can probably name their mayor, but what about the township supervisor? Can you name anyone on your library or fire board? I can't.

The library and fire boards aren't minor players. In Round Lake, for instance, the fire district gets $364 and the library district $219 in property taxes from the owner of a $100,000 house. Together, they collect more in property taxes than the village government.

Yet the municipal government typically grabs more attention than the specialized taxing districts. For example, the mayor typically gets greater scrutiny than the relatively anonymous head of the library board.

In Illinois, it's hard to hold many officials accountable because we don't even know who they are.

Fully deserving of speeding tickets

In my June 12 column, I wrote about how I have received my share of speeding tickets. I said it's crossed my mind that police officers have stopped me because they have to meet ticket quotas. But that doesn't matter.

"If you are exceeding the speed limit, you opened yourself up to a ticket," I wrote. "Besides, we have traffic laws for a reason – to keep people safe."

Recently, the governor signed a bill banning ticket quotas. In my column, I argued against its prohibition on using the number of tickets issued as a factor in officers' performance evaluations. I feared that it may give a few officers an incentive not to do their jobs.

One reader left a voice mail expressing his unhappiness with my driving record.

"You are admitting to your speeding tickets. It shows your immaturity. It shows your lack of respect for others. Being a father who drives around my children, you are putting our safety at risk. People like you deserve all the tickets you get. I don't feel sorry for you one bit," he said. "Learn the rules of the road."

He is right: I deserved those tickets, and he shouldn't feel sorry for me. I never said otherwise in my column.

Found on the road

The other day, a Lake Villa woman called to report that she had found a 65-inch-by-82-inch homemade comforter with a Mickey Mouse pattern about 10:30 a.m. June 15 on Fairfield Road between Monaville and Petite Lake roads. She was coming home from church at the time.

She wanted me to write something so that the comforter's owner could claim it. Give me a call if you are the owner.

David Giuliani is news editor of Lake County Suburban Life. He may be reached at 847-231-7524 or dgiuliani@shawmedia.com.

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