08/01/2012 10:58 am ET

BGA Special Investigation: Public Debt Crisis Hits Home Town, Illinois

This story is courtesy of the Better Government Association:

A BGA Rescuing Illinois investigation finds a flood of red ink is crashing over Chicago-area suburbs, threatening to sweep away basic government-backed services and support while also dramatically altering the very standard of living that makes many of them desirable places to live, work and raise families.

If you live in a suburb, village or small city surrounding Chicago, the next big public debt crisis is coming your way.

While it’s common knowledge that Illinois and Chicago’s government balance sheets are awash in debt, scores of small municipalities are the next casualties of a escalating public finance debt debacle brought on by mismanagement, out-of-control borrowing and huge public pension obligations.

The Better Government Association investigated this emerging and increasingly urgent trend by focusing on the financial challenges of three established and mid-sized Chicago suburbs: Des Plaines, Evanston and Oak Park.

The BGA examination of the suburbs’ finances and interviews with civic leaders, municipal experts and area residents reveals that even stable, prosperous communities, such as these, are hard-pressed to meet their obligations, especially as soaring public pensions and other costs outstrip their ability to financially cope.

These suburbs, like many municipal counterparts throughout the region, are struggling to deliver the services residents demand without squeezing homeowners and businesses with ever-higher taxes and fees.

But deep cutbacks—including library and facility closings, selling assets, worker lay-offs, consolidating or shutting units of government, even scrapping holiday fireworks displays and outsourcing festivals—are underway. Unfortunately, as the strain of reductions is beginning to take a toll on residents and businesses, these moves may not be enough to staunch the crisis.

"Does something have to give? It’s already starting to happen," says Christopher Canning, board member and former president of Northwest Municipal Conference, a government trade group that represents over 41 municipalities and one township in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

Click here to read the full investigation.

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Photo by Payton Chung via Flickr.