McHenry County discussion on township consolidation study continues

WOODSTOCK – The question of whether taxpayers would benefit from township consolidation is not a dead issue to some on the McHenry County Board, despite its rejection of referendums to consolidate them.

A last-minute proposal to commission an outside study to examine the impact of consolidation was kicked to committee before the board's Oct. 6 vote to reject putting referendums on the March ballot to reduce the number of townships from 17 to eight. The Finance and Audit Committee, which is led by the board member who floated the idea, will take up the issue at a future meeting.

Chairman Mike Skala, R-Huntley, said he wanted to make sure voters had the information they needed to make an informed decision – something he and other members who voted against the referendums said was sorely lacking from the proponents of the idea.

“I think the data is worthwhile, whether there’s ever a [referendum vote] or not, whether townships are being prudent and frugal, or whether there are savings that can occur,” Skala said.

The discussion could take place as soon as the committee's Oct. 29 meeting – it was on the agenda for its meeting last Thursday, but the meeting ran long and was postponed. The resolution proposes a maximum cost of $15,000.

A group called McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation, with the blessing of several high-ranking county Republican officials, asked the County Board in March to put the consolidation initiatives on the ballot. The group argued consolidation would save taxpayer money and improve accountability.

A five-member task force made up of three County Board members and two township officials was convened to come up with a plan. But after three hearings and an open house, the task force only could agree on recommending two proposed consolidations – Richmond and Burton townships in the county's northeast corner, and Chemung and Dunham townships in the county's northwest corner.

Opponents successfully argued that proponents had not made its case that consolidation would save money – what’s more, because the levies of two consolidating townships are added together and then divided among their total assessed value, the residents of the township with the lower tax rate would see a tax increase. The County Board rejected the referendums on a 13-9 vote.

Skala cautioned that advancing the study does not necessarily mean the County Board would take another shot at consolidation referendums. Its results could be used by taxpayers to hold their townships accountable, or petition on their own to advance consolidation referendums if they so decided.

Townships under Illinois law have three statutory functions: to assess properties, to maintain roads and to provide assistance to constituents in need. Although supporters of township government in Illinois call it the most direct and responsive form taxpayers have, critics call it an unnecessary anachronism rife with nepotism and patronage.