COMMENTARY: Consolidation is inevitable, so quit whining

consolidation
(Martin Falbisoner/Wikimedia Commons photo)

A local news outlet wrote an editorial Tuesday, citing they were not convinced on the issue of consolidation. I guess none of the editorial staff at Hillsboro’s The Journal-News understand the whole idea of consolidation, more or less the definition of it.

The word gets tossed around a lot, from science and technology to economics, but the definition of consolidation is simply put:

the merging or integration of many items into one

Consolidations have taken place many times in the business world. In some instances, some corporations had so many acquisitions and consolidations, they were dragged into anti-trust lawsuits by state — and sometimes, Federal — governments. You may have heard of some of these companies – AT&T (1974, 1982), Kodak (1921), Standard Oil (1911), Heinz (2001), Oracle (2004), Paramount Pictures (1948) and Microsoft (1999, 2001) among others.

When government services are involved, such as education and emergency services, sometimes consolidation is absolutely necessary. Let me paint you a picture:

In the past five years, Montgomery County has lost significant tax revenue.

In 2015, the Deer Run coal mine near the village of Schram City shuttered as a result of a mine shaft fire while managed by Patton Mining. Foresight Energy stated in a December 2018 press release they were going to attempt reopening the mine despite previous plans to permanently shut it down, but as of now, limited mining is being done at the site for the potential of resuming longwall mining in the future, according to Foresight’s website.

Last week, the coal-powered power plant in Coffeen shut down, with owner Vistra Energy uncertain about the site’s future.

With the Deer Run mine running at less than half-power and the county’s only power plant shuttered, Montgomery County isn’t getting the money they’re used to in order to pay for the programs they need so badly.

Montgomery County isn’t the only county in Illinois that has been dealing with financial troubles. 39 counties could not afford to fund much-needed programs such as 911 and emergency management services in 2018 and had to pursue consolidation with another county. Shelby County was among one of those counties and merged 911 and emergency management services with Christian County.

Sangamon, Macoupin, Fayette, Bond, Coles and Moultrie counties are also feeling the same financial constraints with more to come in 2020, making operations very difficult. It’s highly possible that by 2030, these counties will ultimately consolidate their operations alongside the eventual Montgomery/Christian/Shelby 911 and EMA operations to a larger regional operation housed in Decatur.

It’s not just an ongoing thing with county governments. Consolidation can take place with townships, road districts and even school districts. In recent years, voters in the Fillmore and South Fillmore townships voted to consolidate their townships into one operation. There has been previous discussions regarding consolidating all of Montgomery County’s schools into one district. Nokomis did not get involved in those talks. While the Panhandle school district was among those who were in favor of said county consolidation, the district has not stated anything further since the August school reorganization study, pondering whether they’re going to move forward or opt-out.

Consolidation is just a way of life. It’s inevitable. You can’t keep it from happening, unless you want to tick off overtaxed taxpayers.

But let’s look at the financial aspect of consolidation as well — and I’m not talking about debt consolidation. I’m talking about pension consolidation. It’s a primary reason for the state’s current fiscal woes and the pension debt continues to cripple not only the state but municipalities as well.

However, that’s not the only solution. Illinois has nearly 7,000 bodies of local government, often overlapping each other making for duplicitous taxation. Texas has 5,343 local bodies of government and is ranked second, while North Carolina has 970 local bodies of government and is ranked on this list at tenth. (Ranking by the U.S. Census Bureau and WalletHub is based on the number of local bodies of government per population. The more you have, the worst you are as a taxpayer.)

Consolidation should always be an option, even if those who blindly oppose it choose to rail against it.

Jake Leonard is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed and GM/program director of the Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network and Podcast Network. Leonard is also general manager of Heartland Internet Media Networks, an active contributor to four newspapers for Pana News Group and a contributing writer to My Sports Vote.

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