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Local Governments Flying Under the Radar Reign in Illinois

While Illinois has shed state and local public-sector jobs since 2007, local taxing units have remained largely untouched. Illinois has the most local government units of any U.S. state, including 1,300 municipalities, 1,400 townships, 900 school districts and 3,200 special purpose districts.

Published Oct. 28, 2013

Illinois: The Land of Local Government

There are almost 7,000 taxing units in Illinois, the most of any U.S. state. Of those, 3,200 are so-called special purpose districts — local taxing entities excluding county or municipal governments or school districts with a more focused purpose. A single county can have dozens of park, drainage or fire protection districts with potential for redundancy.

Most taxing units

Most special-purpose districts

Special Purpose Districts Avoid Political Push for Smaller Government

The Illinois constitution sets rigid expenditure restrictions on local governments, which prompted the state legislature to authorize the creation of special purpose districts in 1907. There are now more than 800 drainage and fire protection districts and 21 mosquito abatement districts. Residents in the Cook County suburb of Roselle, for instance, pay into 14 separate districts. Lobbying associations have protected the districts, while local public-sector jobs in Illinois fell 400,000 to 14 million from 2007 to 2012.

Number of special purpose districts

Total, by county

Number of districts per 10,000 people, by county

Cook County

Cook County, where
Chicago is located, is
the most populous
county in the state
and has the most
special purpose
districts at 206,
according to state comptroller data. Calculated per
capita, Cook County
has the fewest districts, with each special purpose district serving more than 25,000 people, on average.

Iroquois County

Cook County has 179 times more people than Iroquois County's 29,000. Yet Iroquois has 114 times more districts per capita. There are 93 separate drainage districts in the county, each collecting tax.

Counties with the most drainage districts

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Illinois Comptroller