New bill empowers voters to eliminate McHenry County townships

New bill empowers voters to eliminate McHenry County townships

House Bill 4244 would give McHenry County voters an easier path to having a choice in eliminating their township governments, encouraging consolidation in a county where residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Politicians haven’t made it easy to consolidate Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government. But state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed legislation Jan. 12 that would give taxpayers in McHenry County a much easier path toward eliminating township government if they so choose.

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.

But McSweeney’s House Bill 4244, which applies only to McHenry County voters, would ease those requirements. Under the bill, placing a binding township-elimination referendum on the ballot would require petition signatures from just 5 percent of voters who voted in the last comparable election – only in the specific township seeking to consolidate.

For example, if voters in a particular McHenry County township wanted to get the ballot question to eliminate their township on the 2018 ballot, they would need signatures of just 5 percent of voters in their township who voted in 2014.

The change wouldn’t guarantee elimination of township government, but would give reform advocates a much easier path toward presenting the option to voters. McSweeney points to McHenry County’s Algonquin Township as a prime example of waste, where Bob Miller, the former Algonquin Township road commissioner, hired family members to high-priced positions in the township. The township is now also facing legal bills and labor disputes.

“It’s the best example of bad government all the way around,” McSweeney said. “My view right now is the only way to resolve that situation is to eliminate Algonquin Township.”

But Algonquin Township is just one example, and the waste doesn’t stop there. Nearby Nunda Township, also in McHenry County, has a large payroll that adds costs to the taxpayers in the area.

Nunda Townships’ dozens of employees in its highway department alone from August 2016 – August 2017 cost taxpayers more than $2 million in pay, and hundreds of thousands more in pensions and other benefits. On that large payroll is now Miller, who after losing re-election in Algonquin Township received a $40-per-hour consultant job in Nunda Township. Nunda Township also hired two of Miller’s sons-in-law to full-time positions.

Examples of waste can likely be found throughout other townships in McHenry County and across the state. With roughly 1,400 townships in Illinois, this unit of government – which has services that often overlap with municipal and county government – is ripe for reform.

McHenry County taxpayers certainly feel the costs of overlapping local governments. From 2011-2015, taxpayers in McHenry County paid the fourth-highest median property tax bill in the state, and the 30th-highest in the nation. For some, the easiest option to deal with the county’s heavy tax burden has been to pack up and leave. From July 2015 – July 2016, McHenry County lost more than 1,500 residents on net to outmigration.

HB 4244 is a welcome sign, though, for the overburdened McHenry County taxpayers who are still there and looking for relief. This would also be a big help for consolidation advocates, who have been met with pushback and even intimidation tactics. Bob Anderson, McHenry Township trustee and longtime consolidation advocate, has had nails placed behind his car as a threat to stop pushing for consolidation.

Tactics like these – and legislative hurdles preventing consolidation – are hurting some of the most over-burdened taxpayers in the nation. HB 4244 is a step in the other direction, and lawmakers should look to support more efforts like it.

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