Algonquin Township denies taxpayers the choice to consolidate road district
A new law gives townships the option to let voters abolish their road districts through referendum. But Algonquin Township trustees rejected a resolution that would have given taxpayers that choice.
Despite the township’s heavy property tax burden and history of questionable spending habits, Algonquin Township trustees July 11 rejected a resolution that would have put a referendum question to voters this November on whether to abolish its road district.
Township Trustee Rachael Lawrence was the only trustee to support the motion, although Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser also offered his support during the meeting. Lawrence, speaking in support of the resolution, cited a recent report from McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally that found township governments to be overrun with “incompetence, guile and impropriety.” Lawrence added that she believed voters were “smart enough” to decide for themselves the fate of the road district, which has exhibited a history of nepotism and waste.
“The motives of anyone wishing to deny the people their voice on this issue should be carefully examined,” Lawrence said at the July 11 meeting.
No trustee seconded the motion.
The chance at abolishing the road district was made possible by a state law that went into effect Jan. 1. Under the new law, township boards in counties with less than 3 million residents may pass a resolution allowing township residents to vote to abolish their road districts through referendum in a given election. In the event voters approve such a measure, their road district would be dissolved and its services would then be transferred to the township.
For voters in Algonquin Township – and other McHenry County townships – this would be a welcome choice. In 2017, McHenry County taxpayers saw an average effective property tax rate of nearly 3 percent. That ranks not only among the highest in the state, but the entire country, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
At nearly 7,000 units of government, Illinois has more taxing bodies than any other state in the nation. Those government units are a primary driver of the state’s high property tax burden. A reduction in governing bodies could mean relief for taxpayers. Township road districts are a particularly outdated form of local government, often replicating services already provided by other local governments. Moreover, as Algonquin and other nearby townships have seen, some road districts have taken the form of patronage jobs programs.
Former Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller, who held the position for 24 years, notoriously hired relatives to high-priced positions. After being ousted at the ballot box in 2017, he and his two sons-in-law landed lucrative gigs at nearby Nunda Township, also in McHenry County. Miller has also contracted with McHenry Township as a “consultant” since leaving Algonquin Township. As Kenneally’s report confirmed, patronage is hardly uncommon throughout township governments.
Unfortunately, Algonquin Township officials seem not only disinterested in protecting the interests of taxpayers, but also unwilling to allow them a voice. This isn’t the first time Algonquin Township trustees have bucked sensible, cost-efficient reforms: In June, the board rejected consideration of a resolution asking township officials to eliminate nepotism – a practice elected officials should universally oppose.
Instead of disregarding taxpayers and skirting transparency, Algonquin Township trustees would have been wise to follow the lead of trustees in McHenry Township. Led by Bob Anderson, a first-term McHenry Township trustee and longtime consolidation advocate, the township board voted in February to take the opposite course, giving voters the option to abolish their road district this November.
With a new law on the books facilitating the elimination road districts, townships across the state should give taxpayers the choice to consolidate this unnecessary government unit – and lessen their tax burdens. While McHenry Township will have the opportunity to take that step this November, Algonquin Township has once again failed to offer an example of good government.