East St. Louis Township hires politician to shovel inch of snow

East St. Louis Township hires politician to shovel inch of snow

East St. Louis Township paid $550 to a politician, who had previously spent four years in federal prison for tax evasion, to clear an inch of snow from the township's parking lot - a task he didn't even complete.

Illinois’ more than 1,400 townships often offer services duplicative with other governments, and incur costs not abundantly necessary.

The latter is certainly true in East St. Louis Township, where township officials paid a politician $550 to clear an inch of snow off the parking lot of the township’s headquarters Jan. 15.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported the township board approved the payment Jan. 25 for Michael Collins – a former city councilman and current Democratic precinct committeeman who served more than four years in federal prison for income tax evasion – to remove an inch of snow the week prior. Collins did not actually end up removing the snow, but instead sprinkled salt on the ground.

The township’s supervisor would not comment to the Belleville News-Democrat on why the township hired outside help for a task it could have covered itself. But regardless of the reason, the questionable cost is an unwelcome sight for struggling area taxpayers.

In the city of East St. Louis itself, 41 percent of homeowners are seriously underwater on their mortgages. Residents in St. Clair County as a whole, where East St. Louis and East St. Louis Township are located, pay the 21st highest property taxes of the state’s 102 counties. Waste in townships and other local governments only intensify this burden, and it’s something taxpayers across the state have felt. With nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois, opportunities to waste taxpayer dollars are plentiful.

In McHenry County, three separate townships – Algonquin, Nunda and Grafton – are all under investigation for possibly breaking the law in their use of taxpayer money. And those, too, are wasted costs taxpayers can’t afford: McHenry County homeowners, from 2011-2015, paid the fourth-highest median property tax bill in Illinois and the 30th-highest in the nation.

Some Illinoisans – in Belleville and Evanston specifically – have been successful in eliminating their township governments all together. But the hurdles taxpayers have to jump through make the process difficult. 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.

House Bill 4244, recently filed in the General Assembly, would ease those requirements considerably for McHenry County voters – a change that will give taxpayers there more flexibility. But as is evident in East St. Louis and across Illinois, the ability to consolidate wasteful government would be a boon to taxpayers everywhere.

Taxpayers deserve, at the very least, the option to eliminate or consolidate redundant government when its costs serve no benefit to them. And many Illinois townships are proving that’s the case.

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