Illinois overrun with local governments, but consolidation still proving difficult

Illinois overrun with local governments, but consolidation still proving difficult

One community in northern Illinois’ McHenry County is a case study on the glacial pace of consolidation in a state with the most units of local government – and some of the highest property taxes – in the nation.

After advocating for government consolidation for 30 years, Bob Anderson knows a thing or two about patience.

The McHenry Township trustee, who won his seat last April after running on a platform of local government consolidation, introduced a measure Jan. 11 that would allow citizens to vote to abolish their road district and transfer its responsibilities to the township.

But after public comments and a discussion between trustees at the Jan. 11 township board meeting, Anderson’s measure was rejected on a 3-2 vote.

Illinois is home to the most units of local government in the nation by far, with nearly 7,000. Reducing that number is a key step toward increasing transparency and reducing the growth in Illinoisans’ property tax bills, which are among the highest in the nation and grew six times faster than the median household income from 2008-2015.

But Anderson’s board meeting confirmed how difficult it is to consolidate government in Illinois – even though McHenry County residents pay the fourth-highest property taxes in the state.

At the meeting, critics of Anderson’s consolidation measure said it was his job to educate the voters before giving them the opportunity to vote. McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon was one of Anderson’s harshest critics in an effort to keep the status of his job away from voters. Others opposed to Anderson’s measure argued there was no substantial research to support the idea that consolidation of the road district would ultimately save money.

But given the enormity of Illinois’ local government problem, the onus is on those opposing consolidation to prove it would raise costs in the long term – not the other way around. Further, the purpose of putting an issue to a vote is to have both sides to present their arguments to the voting public.

Anderson didn’t respond to most of the heated speeches directed his way.

“I’m not here to make friends,” he said. “I’m here to serve the people that elected me.”

Anderson, who has owned and managed his own barber shop for 56 years, was able to raise the motion because of House Bill 607, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. The bill allows townships to put motions on voting ballots asking citizens if they want to consolidate their local government by removing their road district.

And notably, one new bill could give McHenry County voters an even more powerful voice for consolidation.

On Jan. 12, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed a bill to allow voters greater influence in eliminating township governments. House Bill 4244 would allow voters in McHenry County to put a township-elimination referendum on the ballot by getting signatures of at least 5 percent of voters from a previous comparable election. If more than half of voters support the measure at the polls, the county would assume the township’s responsibilities, though the bill does allow for other municipalities to bid to assume a dissolved township’s duties.

Despite receiving the most votes in last April’s election, Anderson has been the subject of backlash for his consolidation efforts. Last fall, his wife found nails behind the tires of his car at his home. And in April, Anderson found nails behind his tires at his barber shop on Barnard Mill Road.

But Anderson doesn’t pay attention to those who criticize him, even when they do so at township meetings by calling him “just a barber.”

He’s thinking of presenting another motion at next month’s meeting to discuss paying for a study on township elimination and reduced taxes.

“I’m going to keep [up] the pressure,” Bob said after the meeting. “I’m a patient person. I’m 80!”

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