Bipartisan township consolidation bill reintroduced in Springfield
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill before leaving office, but bipartisan support in the General Assembly may send it back to the governor’s desk.
Lawmakers in Springfield have renewed their efforts to make it easier for McHenry County taxpayers to cut a layer of local government that is often inefficient at best and corrupt at worst.
House Bill 348 would relax requirements for residents seeking to abolish their townships in McHenry County. State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced the bill Jan. 14, receiving chief co-sponsorships from state Reps. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook; Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake; Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; and Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee.
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed House Bill 4637, a previous version of this bill, in the final days of his administration. In his veto message, Rauner recommended the bill’s consolidation powers extend to voters in all Illinois counties. That bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with substantial bipartisan support.
McHenry County has 17 townships and its residents paid the highest average effective property tax rate among the collar counties in 2017. Under HB 348, each township board of trustees could create 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 dissolve their townships. Currently, residents seeking to dissolve their township must collect signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters who voted in the last comparable election – in each of the county’s 17 townships. Under HB 348, residents would only need signatures from 5 percent of registered voters and only from the targeted township.
The bill would also 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 percent of their original levies before transferring to the county – meaning a levy decrease of at least 10 percent.
That should find warm reception among homeowners in McHenry County, where the average effective property tax bill is $6,358 – among the highest in Illinois.
Taxpayers trimming waste
High property tax bills are fueling a revolution among McHenry County residents seeking to get rid of waste in local government.
Joe Tirio became the McHenry County recorder of deeds with the intention of eliminating the position. He succeeded, and the $100,000-per-year position will vanish in 2020. Tirio said his temporary political run was motivated by an elderly woman who had just moved to the state. “She got her tax bill and she asked me to come over and look at it because she didn’t think she was looking at it right,” Tirio recalled. “She says it looks like it says $7,900 for her 1,300-square-foot townhome. She said, ‘That 7 is a 1, right? It should be $1,900?’ I said ‘nope.’ She almost fell over.”
In 2017, Bob Anderson, another engaged McHenry resident, partnered with Tirio and led a coalition of candidates to win township board seats on the promise of abolishing the McHenry Township Road District. Anderson successfully introduced a referendum to dissolve the road district, but 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.
Additionally, HB 348 would dissolve any township road district in McHenry and Lake counties that maintains 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.
History of corruption
Not only are townships outdated and often wasteful forms of government, 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 one 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.
HB 348 would give local taxpayers greater power to curb local government waste and find savings through consolidation. Illinois has nearly 7,000 layers of government – more than any other state in the nation. Of those, more than 1,400 are townships whose services would likely be more efficiently delivered at the county or municipal level.
State lawmakers should send HB 348 back to the governor’s desk and give overtaxed residents recourse against wasteful and inefficient units of local government.