More than 100 township governments file in opposition to township consolidation bill

More than 100 township governments file in opposition to township consolidation bill

A House bill that would allow communities to consolidate local township governments has earned support from both parties – and the opposition of township officials.

The biggest opponents of the Township Modernization and Consolidation Act? Townships themselves.

Officials representing more than 100 township governments filed their opposition to the consolidation-friendly House Bill 3133, according to witness slips displayed on the General Assembly’s website. And after lawmakers did not call the bill in committee April 9, its odds of passage this year are slim.

HB 3133 would establish an enhanced democratic framework through which communities could dissolve township governments. Under the act, all Illinois counties would be allowed to pursue township dissolution by voter referendum, brought either by citizen petition or county ordinance.

The bill, filed Feb. 9 by state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, would offer taxpayers the opportunity to improve government efficiency and ease their local tax burdens. But the rush of opposition from township officials illustrates that not all share these interests.

Despite opposition from township administrators themselves, the bill demonstrates a shared interest in targeting government waste and duplication among lawmakers from both parties. In a state with one of the heaviest property tax burdens in the country, HB 3133 would open a small but welcome opportunity for relief. Since having been assigned to committee, the bill has received the co-sponsorship of state Reps. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines; Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee; Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg; and Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook. Meanwhile, House Bill 4637, a consolidation bill sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, passed committee April 9.

Notably, township officials weren’t the only ones trying to kill this bill. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 also filed a witness slip in opposition. AFSCME is the largest public sector union in the state, representing roughly 75,000 government workers across Illinois.

Taxpayers should call upon lawmakers to proceed down a bipartisan path toward consolidation. HB 3133 would amplify the voice of taxpayers by allowing residents greater control over their tax dollars.

At nearly 7,000 local government units, Illinois is draped in more layers of government than any other state in the country. And 1,432, or roughly 20 percent, of these governments are townships. Remarkably, 61 percent of Illinoisans live under three layers of general-purpose local governments, each often performing duplicative and redundant services. This presents ample room for consolidation. Each of these units come with their own administrative bodies, staffed with employees whose annual compensation is at times disproportionate to the residents they serve, and subject to high annual increases.

Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli’s salary, for example, jumped to $223,600 from $173,900 between 2016 and 2017, according to an analysis by government watchdog Open The Books – a 28 percent pay hike. The median household income in Thornton Township is approximately $46,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

One common critique of consolidation measures by government officials is that services would be diminished. But HB 3133 provides that the responsibilities and obligations of a dissolved township be transferred to its receiving county, suggesting that residents could expect continued delivery of public services at a reduced cost.

This concept is not without precedent: DuPage County has eliminated multiple units of local government, while consolidating the services of others, since the passage of a 2013 consolidation law that only applied to DuPage County. In a 2015 report, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti held up the DuPage example as a model for fiscal reform for other counties. Sure enough, lawmakers representing Lake and McHenry counties successfully pushed through the General Assembly a similar consolidation bill that extended much of DuPage County’s consolidation powers to both counties.

But this latest consolidation bill includes protections for taxpayers that previous consolidation proposals have not. For example, in the event that dissolution passes referendum, HB 3133 forbids townships from imposing new taxes and expenditures from the date upon which the referendum passed. The proposal also prohibits such dissolved townships from entering into, renewing or extending “any contracts that would extend beyond the date of dissolution.”

Unnecessary government duplication isn’t just redundant – it’s expensive. And taxpayers have taken note. Wonder Lake resident Bob Anderson ran for the McHenry Township board on a platform of local government consolidation, and received the highest vote total of any candidate. Now, come November, McHenry Township residents will see a consolidation referendum on their ballots.

But the strain of unaffordable local governments and rising property taxes stretches beyond just McHenry Township. Taxpayers across Illinois deserve a greater voice in structuring the local governments meant to serve them.

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