Bipartisan township consolidation bill heads to Pritzker’s desk

Bipartisan township consolidation bill heads to Pritzker’s desk

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for McHenry County residents to consolidate their townships. Renewed bipartisan support has sent it back to the governor’s desk, now occupied by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

After being vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner in January, state lawmakers have given new life to a bipartisan township consolidation bill.

On May 16, the Illinois Senate passed House Bill 348, voting 44-3 to send the measure to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced the bill in the House in January, and was carried in the Senate by state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills.

Chief co-sponsors included state Reps. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook; Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake; Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; and Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee.

HB 348 would relax requirements for residents seeking to abolish their townships in McHenry County, making it easier for taxpayers to cut a layer of local government that is often inefficient at best and corrupt at worst.

McHenry County has 17 townships and its residents paid the highest average effective property tax rate among the collar counties in 2018. Under HB 348, each township board of trustees could call a referendum asking voters whether to eliminate their township. If voters were to choose to consolidate the township, the results would be binding and the county would absorb the dissolved township’s duties and responsibilities.

HB 348 would also make it easier for taxpayers themselves to petition for the dissolution of their township. Currently, to even begin the referendum process, residents must collect signatures from 10% of the registered voters who voted in the last comparable election – from each of the county’s 17 townships, not just the one they’re looking to dissolve.

Under HB 348, residents would only need signatures from 5% of registered voters – or 250 signatures total, whichever number is larger – and only from the targeted township.

Additionally, HB 348 would dissolve all road districts responsible for fewer than 15 miles of road in both McHenry and Lake counties.

This should find warm reception among homeowners in McHenry County, where the average effective property tax bill is $6,425 – among the highest in Illinois. The bill would offer a path toward property tax relief if voters opt for consolidation: The property tax levy of the dissolved township and its road district would be capped at 90% of their original levies before transferring duties to the county, meaning a guaranteed levy decrease of at least 10%.

In 2017, McHenry County resident Bob Anderson helped lead a coalition of candidates to win township board seats on the promise of abolishing McHenry Township Road District. While Anderson successfully introduced a referendum to dissolve the district, the November 2018 vote came up short.

“We found out when government is established, how difficult it is to remove it,” Anderson told supporters on election night. HB 348 would ease that process.

Not only are townships wasteful, but they are especially susceptible to corruption. At one point in 2018, three townships in McHenry County were simultaneously under criminal investigations by McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally. In a report, the state’s attorney described a climate of “incompetence, guile and impropriety” in Algonquin Township, and recommended consolidating it with other local units of government.

Pritzker should sign HB 348, giving local taxpayers greater power to rein in local government waste and find savings through consolidation.

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