County Board to ask state to repeal township law that applies only to McHenry County

Officials say the law has too many problems that need to be addressed

McHenry Township Road District maintenance worker Connor Solum, left, and crew lead Brandon McCoy load a culvert pipe onto a trailer to be delivered and installed at Hilltop Dr. on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 at the McHenry Township Roads District in Johnsburg.

The McHenry County Board will ask state lawmakers to repeal a law that makes McHenry County the only county in the state where voters can vote to dissolve a township.

The board will vote on a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting that calls on state lawmakers to repeal the 2019 law, which county officials said has too many problems and needs changes. No township in the county has been successfully dissolved since the law was passed two years ago, which officials argued shows the law is not necessary.

“Our intention is not to make a statement opposing government consolidation or take away the power from voters to choose how they are represented and taxed,” said board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake.

The 2019 law was introduced by former state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, an ardent supporter of allowing voters to choose to eliminate or consolidate units of government. It has also recently been the subject of lawsuits filed by Nunda and McHenry township road districts, which argued the state constitution prohibits legislation from applying only to a single county.

“This law is poorly written legislation and offers almost no guidance for how our county government would handle the assets, responsibilities, contracts and employees of an eliminated township,” Buehler said.

Referendums to consolidate townships have been on the ballot in some McHenry County townships recently, but none passed. Voters in 2020 voted overwhelmingly against dissolving Nunda and McHenry townships, and voters in April voted against abolishing the McHenry Township Road District.

County Board members met with the county’s state lawmakers last month to discuss the issue and ask them to support any changes the county proposes.

“We just want to make sure our voice is heard with regard to lack of fairness as far as I see it in the law,” said board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake.

While the county ideally would like to see the law repealed, according to the resolution it also would be acceptable if the legislation was applied to all of Illinois’ 102 counties with significant improvements.

“The Board requests that future legislation be enacted statewide to ensure that all voters are given the same opportunities and all counties are able to collaborate to deliver the best services to their residents,” according to the resolution.

Make changes to the current law is the most important part, Buehler said, to fix its “glaring” problems.

“Our lawmakers said a statement from our County Board would go a long way once the General Assembly reconvenes next month for the start of the spring session,” Buehler said.

State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, told board members last month he was willing to sponsor any bill on the issue the County Board wanted. Reick did not vote in favor of the 2019 law.

Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, told board members last month he doesn’t expect township issues to come up next year ahead of the June primaries, especially proposals that might be controversial. The General Assembly is scheduled to wrap up the spring session in early April, about six weeks earlier than usual.

No board members voiced any objection at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting on the county’s direction. The full board will vote on the resolution at Tuesday’s meeting.