The U.S. Census Bureau has released the preliminary counts of local governments as the first part of the 2012 Census of Governments, and once again, Illinois has the dubious honor of being first among the 50 states.
In 2012, 89,004 local governments existed in the United States, down from 89,476 in the last census of governments conducted in 2007.
Illinois’ governments had decreased as well — from 6,994 to 6,968 — but Illinois is still far ahead of Pennsylvania, which once again came in second place. Illinois has more than 2,000 more governments than Pennsylvania, which had a paltry 4,905, or Texas, with 4,856.
Hawaii — with only three county, one municipality and 17 special districts — had the fewest governments with only 21, followed by Rhode Island with 134 governments.
Nationally, local governments included 3,031 counties (down from 3,033 in 2007), 19,522 municipalities (up from 19,492 in 2007), 16,364 townships (down from 16,519 in 2007), 37,203 special districts (down from 37,381 in 2007) and 12,884 independent school districts (down from 13,051 in 2007).
Every five years since 1952, the Census Bureau has completed a comprehensive count of all local governments in the country. The most dramatic changes have been the decline in independent school districts and the notable increase in special districts.
Special districts are local governing bodies that are authorized by state law to provide only one or a limited number of designated functions. Fire districts, water districts, library districts and transit authorities are examples of special districts.
Of Illinois’s 6,968 local governments, there are 102 county governments, 1,298 municipal governments, 1,431 town or township governments, 3,232 special districts, and 905 independent school districts.
Nationally, the number of governments decreased sharply from a peak of 155,116 in 1942 to 78,269 in 1972. Since then, the figure has been on a slow increase to today’s 80,055.
Illinois followed a similar pattern, from a peak of 15,854 in 1942 to 6,386 in 1972.
In 2007, Illinois had 102 county governments, 1,299 municipalities, 1,432 townships, 3,249 special districts, and 869 school districts.
Bureau County has its fair share of government bodies.
In addition to the county government, there are 25 townships, 24 municipalities, 28 school districts, eight library districts, 20 drainage districts, two park districts, 22 fire protection districts, nine multi-township assessment districts and one water conservation district.
The county added a taxing body most recently in November 2008, when voters approved the creation of the Walnut Fire Protection District to receive tax money to help pay for fire and ambulance service to the area.
The number of school districts remained the same although the Neponset School District was annexed into the Kewanee School District because Kewanee replaced Neponset as a government. Next year the numbers will go down by one after the dissolution of the Leepertown School District, which was annexed into the Ladd and Princeton elementary districts.
Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus said the large number of local governments isn’t confusing to keep track of, and she sees the value in having so many governments.
For example, only 20 states have township governments, and she has heard of pushes in some states to do away with township governments.
Hieronymus said townships do a lot of work such as taking care of the local roads.
“Even if the township government isn’t there, somebody’s going to have to have the money to take care of the roads,” she said.
Another issue is the number of special district units. Illinois’ 3,232 leads the nation, far ahead of second-place Arkansas with 2,786 special district units.
But Hieronymus said they are all valuable.
“Think about the services they provide,” she said. “If you take away those governing bodies, who would do the work?”
Hieronymus said people should want to be sure their services are local.
“You want a smaller fire district so that they can get to your house in time if you have a fire,” she said.
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In an attempt to limit the number of governmental bodies, Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) introduced legislation in Springfield last year to create a bipartisan commission to study the problem. The Commission would have been an independent board charged with reviewing the effectiveness and impact of local units of government, and then recommending many of them for elimination or consolidation.
The bill was defeated in the Senate May 3, 2011 on a 14-30 vote. Both local senators — Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) and Sue Rezin (R-Morris) voted no.