A referendum to abolish the McHenry Township Road District was on track to be rejected by voters, preliminary election results show, the culmination of a hard-fought battle to eliminate the separate taxing body and place the responsibilities of maintaining the township’s roads under the jurisdiction of the McHenry Township Board.
Unofficial election results reported by the McHenry County Clerk’s Office showed that voters rejected the referendum by a margin of 80.4% to 19.6%, as of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday night. The results do not include all mail-in or provisionally cast ballots.
The only other referendum to appear on the ballot Tuesday was a question for Spring Grove voters on whether to approve an increase in the local sales tax rate to 7.75% from 7%. The increase would fund infrastructure projects like road upgrades and repairs as well as potentially networking equipment to bring a new internet service to the village, according to reporting by the Northwest Herald.
Preliminary election results show that this referendum passed with 69.3% of residents voting in favor and 30.7% against, as of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday night.
The candidates running for Spring Grove village president, challenger Brandel Wicinski and incumbent Mark Eisenberg, said they support the sales tax increase.
If the referendum to abolish the McHenry Township Road District flips and ultimately passes, the road district will be eliminated as a taxing body after a period of 90 days and its assets and duties will be absorbed by the McHenry Township Board, Trustee Steve Verr said.
Verr was one of the McHenry Township trustees who voted in a 3-2 split to place the referendum on the ballot, and, in an interview Tuesday, he said he did so because he feels the consolidation will save taxpayers money and is the first step in a broader vision of eliminating the township altogether.
“In overtaxed McHenry County, we sorely need to slash excess layers of bureaucratic taxing bodies suffocating us,” Verr said in a previous written statement.
While the consolidation may seem like a good way to cut costs, current Road District Commissioner Jim Condon said that it may not ultimately do so.
“They’re trying to eliminate an organization that, in my opinion, is actually very efficient,” Condon said.
The board recently began the work of creating its budget for the upcoming fiscal year and, if the referendum passes, will need to plan a budget for the maintenance of the township’s roughly 145 miles of roads, Verr said.
Condon said the funds needed to balance this budget will likely increase as the township will need to hire someone to oversee the department whose experience likely will call for a six-figure salary. This is an increase from the roughly $86,000 Condon currently is paid, but it is a big hike from the $45,000 he would have made upon the start of his new term after the McHenry Township Board voted to slash salaries almost in half last summer, he said.
Verr pushed back against this theory, saying they would look for someone to lead the township’s road maintenance who would be willing to work for the same amount that Condon would have been paid.
If the township were then eliminated, costs would also increase as the county or local municipalities would likely need to hire higher paid union workers to maintain the roads, Condon said.
If official election results show that voters have rejected the referendum, Condon – who is running unopposed this election – will be the de facto leader of the independent McHenry County Road District for another four years. But Verr said that he and the other trustees who have been calling for the consolidation would not be deterred if the results don’t go in their favor.
Getting the McHenry Township Road District abolished is simply a matter of educating voters on why it is the right decision, he said.
“Once people understand what’s at stake, they abolish,” Verr said.
The referendum voted on in the Tuesday’s election was already a retrial of a referendum that failed by a solid margin about two years ago, but Verr said they only need to win once and that day will come.