Illinois township pensioners have collected nearly $300M over past 20 years

Illinois township pensioners have collected nearly $300M over past 20 years

While often regarded as a duplicative and unnecessary unit of government, former township employees in Illinois have banked more than $273 million in pension benefits since 1998.

Townships might seem like a small cost to Illinois property taxpayers, but records from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, or IMRF, show that those costs add up quickly.

Since 1998, nearly 2,800 retired township employees currently enrolled in IMRF have collected more than $273 million in pension benefits. Two township pensioners received more than $1 million in that timeframe, according to IMRF records, with one of them, William Podgorski, accumulating that amount in just eight years. Four township retirees currently receive six-figure annual payouts.

That’s a heavy burden for taxpayers to carry over two decades, particularly for a layer of government that many recognize isn’t entirely necessary.

Illinois is home to more than 1,400 townships, many of which duplicate services provided by other municipal governments. Efforts have been made across the state to reduce costs by consolidating townships with other layers of government. In 2016, for example, Belleville City Council voted to dissolve Belleville Township and consolidate its services with the city, a decision that stands to save taxpayers more than $250,000 annually. This followed the lead of Evanston Township, where residents voted in 2014 to dissolve the township and transfer its services to the city of Evanston. Voters in Alton and McHenry townships will be given the same choice on their respective ballots this November.

For McHenry Township taxpayers, consolidation could also mean ending years of alleged patronage and improper spending by township officials. McHenry Township paid Bob Miller – the controversial former Algonquin Township highway commissioner – hundreds in taxpayer dollars for consulting services in 2017, and hired the son of Nunda Township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance to a position that had not been advertised to the public. This is not uncommon among McHenry County townships: Nunda Township also hired Miller, as well as his two sons-in-law and the son of McHenry Township Highway Commissioner Jim Condon.

Nunda, Grafton and Algonquin townships have all faced or are facing investigations into improper spending. An investigation into Algonquin Township in May led McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally to conclude that townships are a “deeply flawed” form of government, filled with “incompetence, guile and impropriety.” Many McHenry County townships affirm Kenneally’s assessment.

Taxpayers across the state should be given the choice to consolidate or abolish their townships.

But at the very least, lawmakers in Springfield should enact reforms to alleviate the costly pension burden placed on taxpayers. In the short term, that means enrolling all new government workers into 401(k)-style plans. In the long term, however, it means changing the state’s constitution to allow for adjustments to future, unearned benefits for government workers.

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