3 McHenry County townships now under investigation

3 McHenry County townships now under investigation

The McHenry County state's attorney's office is investigating Nunda and Grafton townships for illegal misuse of taxpayer money, making them the second and third townships - after Algonquin Township - to be under investigation in McHenry County.

The McHenry County state’s attorney has opened investigations into two area townships that may have broken the law in their use of taxpayer money, while another investigation into a third township is ongoing.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally has not revealed the full extent of his office’s investigation into the two new townships is, but, according to the Northwest Herald, his office has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to Nunda and Grafton Township officials asking for financial records from 2013-2017 including “… any and all documents relating to the procurement of goods and services by the township, including the highway district and road commissioner, and any and all documents related to the expenditure of township or highway funds for any purpose other than payroll or funds expended under the township’s public assistance program …”

Nunda and Grafton Townships are not the first McHenry County townships to be investigated for potentially abusing taxpayer funds. Algonquin Township, also in McHenry County, is facing an ongoing grand jury probe stemming from former Highway Commissioner Bob Miller’s alleged misuse of taxpayer money for personal use, rigging of bids and handing out government property to political allies.

Miller had been in charge of the Algonquin Township Highway Department for 24 years, hiring members of his family to high-priced positions in the department along the way. Miller lost re-election in 2017, but he quickly landed on his feet – by acquiring a $40-per-hour consultant job in Nunda Township, one of the two townships now also under investigation. Nunda Township also hired two of Miller’s sons-in-law to full-time positions, adding to its highway department’s more than $2 million payroll with hundreds of thousands more in pensions and other benefits.

With more than 1,400 townships in Illinois – that often have duplicative services with county and municipal government – opportunity for waste and abuse is prevalent. That’s why one lawmaker, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is proposing legislation to ease the process by which McHenry County voters can eliminate their township government.

As the law stands now, to put a binding referendum question on a ballot to eliminate township governments, voters must get a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters in every township in the entire county. But McSweeney’s House Bill 4244 would ease those requirements significantly and allow voters a path to cut costs, if they so choose.

Under HB 4244, placing a binding township-elimination referendum on the ballot would require petition signatures from just 5 percent of voters who voted in the last comparable election – only in the specific township seeking to consolidate. The change wouldn’t guarantee elimination of township government, but would give reform advocates a much easier path toward presenting the option to voters.

At present, reform advocates are often met with pushback and even intimidation tactics. Bob Anderson, a McHenry Township trustee, has been the subject of dangerous intimidation as he’s pushed for consolidation – a move that would help the overburdened taxpayers in his area. And those taxpayers in McHenry, Nunda, Grafton and Algonquin townships – along with everyone else in McHenry County – certainly feel the costs of overlapping local governments.

From 2011-2015, taxpayers in McHenry County paid the fourth-highest median property tax bill in the state, and the 30th-highest in the nation. For some, the easiest option to deal with the county’s heavy tax burden has been to pack up and leave. From July 2015 – July 2016, McHenry County lost more than 1,500 residents on net to outmigration.

With costs this heavy – in part fueled by unneeded, wasteful levels of government – voters should at least have a viable way to choose to cut costs. Investigations into some of McHenry County’s surplus of townships could be a start into seeing what those costs are, and for what they are being used.

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