Bipartisan township consolidation bill heads to governor’s desk

Bipartisan township consolidation bill heads to governor’s desk

The bill would make it easier for McHenry County residents to dissolve the county’s 17 townships at the ballot box – and find tax relief through cost savings.

Taxpayers in McHenry County could soon gain a tool to cut a form of local government that is often inefficient at best and corrupt at worst.

House Bill 4637 would relax requirements for residents to abolish townships in McHenry County. On Nov. 29 the bill passed the Illinois House of Representatives, 78-23, after having passed the Senate. It now advances to the governor’s desk.

Co-sponsors of the bill include state Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake; and Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee.

McHenry County is home to 17 townships. Under HB 4637, each township board of trustees could create a referendum asking to eliminate the township. Were voters to opt for consolidation, the results would be binding, with the county absorbing the dissolved township’s duties and responsibilities.

But HB 4637 would also make it easier for taxpayers to start the consolidation process. Currently, residents looking to dissolve their township must collect signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters who participated in the last comparable election, and they must hit that 10-percent mark in each of the county’s 17 townships. If HB 4637 becomes law, residents would only need 5 percent of registered voters and only from the targeted township.

The bill would also provide a path toward property tax relief if voters opt for consolidation. Under the bill, township consolidation would come with a property tax levy reduction of at least 10 percent: The taxing authority of both the dissolved township and its road district would be capped at 90 percent of their original levies before transferring to the county.

This provision should find warm reception among residents of McHenry County, where property taxes may be depressing the region’s housing market. A recent study by ATTOM Data Solutions pegged the median McHenry County property tax bill at $6,383 for a single-family home – $1,442 more than the state average.

Moreover, townships in McHenry County displayed a pattern of waste and abuse. At one point in 2018, the county state’s attorney simultaneously was conducting criminal investigations into Algonquin, Grafton and Nunda townships. The investigation into Algonquin Township dimmed the state’s attorney’s view of townships altogether, describing township government in a report as overrun with “incompetence, guile and impropriety.”

The bill also contains a provision that would dissolve any township road district in McHenry and Lake counties that maintain 15 miles of road or less. Those districts would be dissolved immediately if the bill becomes law, with no other action needed by voters or other government layers.

The bill would bring welcome change to local taxpayers. But the ability for taxpayers to consolidate local government on their own shouldn’t be limited to McHenry County. All local governments – not just those within McHenry or Lake county’s boundaries – ought to be subject to the cost-efficiency verdicts of the taxpayers they serve.

Illinois’ nearly 7,000 layers of government – more than any other state in the country – are often duplicative and overlapping, at times performing redundant services and subsidizing excessive employee compensation. Of those, more than 1,400 are townships that could be absorbed by counties or municipalities. The cost of maintaining duplicative local governments increases Illinoisans’ outsized property tax burden.

In closing out a year that has been less than kind to McHenry County taxpayers, Gov. Bruce Rauner should close out his term by signing HB 4637, and delivering needed reform to overburdened taxpayers.

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