It is no secret Illinois leads the nation in sky-high property taxes. One of the largest driving factors is the huge number of local government bodies in Illinois, each with property tax authority that is largely unchecked in any meaningful way. Legislators often run on the promise of property tax relief, yet few discuss whether these units are truly necessary and take any reasonable steps to consolidate duplicative bodies or remove irrelevant and superfluous ones.
As of 2017, Illinois has almost 7,000 units of government. California, which has more than three times the population, makes do with a little more than 4,000. In per capita terms, California has 11 governmental units per 100,000 people, while Illinois has almost 60.
One of the standouts of a unit of government operating unchecked and below the radar, yet driving up the score on property taxes, is township government. Township government is usually two units of government in one – a township and a road district.
Election is somewhat a misnomer here as it’s the only government in Illinois that does not have a primary election but has a partisan caucus. The result of this less-than-democratic process is that elected offices are often passed from parent to child like a feudal title of nobility.
This is not where the feudal analogy ends. These units of government often have no websites nor any internet presence. If you want to know when these units meet you need to look at the front door of their office every day to see if they post a meeting agenda.
Township government has two major functions, to provide general and special assistance to the indigent and maintenance of township roads. Once you get out of the Chicago area, few townships provide any assistance (and in fairness, usually no one even asks). What this means is that the elected officials get salaries for minimal work.
Almost all government in Illinois needs to produce annual audited financial statements. Many townships only need to produce audits every fourth year. In theory, the Freedom of Information Act applies to townships, but in practice, since it is difficult to find them online and few produce contact information, getting information is difficult.
You’ve heard of the divine right of kings, but you may have missed the divine right of township officials.
Township government is superfluous, provides no public value and is unmitigatedly and inherently corrupt. They should be abolished statewide and what minimal functions they do perform are transferred to counties and municipalities.
• John Bambenek is executive director and resident lobbyist for Abolish Townships Now.