State lawmaker plans to introduce township consolidation bill
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is working on the framework for a bill that would dramatically improve taxpayers’ ability to eliminate township governments, of which Illinois has about 1,400.
Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government – the most of any state in the country – can be a burden to taxpayers, and to eliminate or consolidate them, taxpayers have to jump through hoops.
As it 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 county. But one state lawmaker is looking to make that process much easier.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is planning to introduce legislation that would better empower local voters to eliminate township government, should they choose.
Government consolidation is a critical part of lowering Illinoisans’ property tax bills, which are some of the highest in the nation and too often serve as a second mortgage families can never pay off.
McSweeney said the pending legislation would change the requirement to place a binding referendum on the ballot to 5 percent of voters who voted in the last comparable election – just in the specific township seeking to consolidate. The change wouldn’t guarantee elimination of township government, but would give reform advocates a much easier path toward presenting the option to voters.
“All I’m doing is giving citizens the ability to eliminate township government,” McSweeney said.
Roughly 1,400 of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of local government are townships, often offering services duplicative with other municipalities and counties. This isn’t the case in other states. While about 61 percent of Illinois residents lived under three layers of general-purpose local government (municipal, township, county) as of 2013, residents in at least 40 other states never had more than two layers. In Cook and the collar counties alone, residents live with 271 municipalities and 113 townships among 1,283 total units of government, according to the Civic Federation.
Given Illinois has more taxing bodies than any other state, it’s no surprise Illinois also has some of the highest property taxes in the nation.
Beyond just overlapping services, the different layers of government are a breeding ground for waste and administrative bloat, with township government being no exception. McSweeney points to Algonquin Township in McHenry County as a prime example.
Legal bills, labor disputes and an ongoing investigation into the previous regime at the Algonquin Township Highway Department are costing taxpayers. Waste came to the forefront during a 2017 election, in which Bob Miller, who served as highway commissioner for 24 years, lost in part due to attention drawn to high-priced nepotism hires.
“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 the waste doesn’t stop at Algonquin Township, and no better example of that is Miller, the former highway commissioner himself. After losing the election earlier this year, Miller went on to take a $40-per-hour position as a consultant to Nunda Township’s highway department. Much like Miller while he was at the helm in Algonquin Township, Nunda Township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance made more than $92,000 in his post in 2016, according to OpenTheBooks.com, all for a job of questionable merit when given municipalities’ and counties’ likely capacity for administering the highways in the area.
These high costs come for a layer of government that is not abundantly necessary, and having the option to forgo it should be available to all taxpayers. Unfortunately for advocates of consolidation, trying to save taxpayer money has been met with blowback from those entrenched in local government.
Bob Anderson, a McHenry Township trustee and government consolidation advocate, has had nails placed behind his car at his Wonder Lake home in response to his efforts to make local government more efficient.
“I think it’s pretty cowardly that somebody does not agree with my position that they at least can’t come and talk to [me] about it, but nonetheless that’s the way things are,” Anderson said.
That strong resistance to consolidation is evident not only in the tactics used against Anderson, but also in the hoops voters have to jump through to make change. McSweeney’s proposal should be a welcome sign for overburdened taxpayers, dealing with the most units of government of any state in the country. Having the highest tax burden and most units of government are interconnected, and at the very least, it shouldn’t be a challenge for taxpayers to try and change that.