Column

Craver: Eyes will be on county GOP for township consolidation effort

McHenry County Republicans talk a good game about limiting government and lowering taxes when they’re lacing up their cleats in the locker room. They talk a great game when they’re up for re-election.

But when it’s time to take the field and play ball, when it’s time to vote on something more substantial than low-hanging fruit, a lot of them flop with feigned injuries. Meaningful reform can make your average McHenry County Republican officeholder shriek in horror like a tween hearing One Direction breakup rumors.

We saw this phenomenon most recently when state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, tried to pass a bill that would allow the County Board to eliminate a handful of do-nothing entities that no one would miss. But because the legislation on a one-in-a-billion chance could be used to abolish the McHenry County Conservation District, many County Board members and some of our Republican state lawmakers opposed it.

Another chance for county Republicans to be the party of less government could soon be presented to them on a silver platter.

A handful of Republican officials, with the blessing of some of the party’s bigger movers and shakers, is asking the county to put referendums on the March 2016 ballot to consolidate the number of county townships from 17 to eight. While state law requires draconian changes for a county to eliminate its townships altogether, it makes consolidation somewhat straightforward – the county draws the map with the proposed consolidations, and puts the question to the voters of each township for them to decide.

While I haven’t been able to obtain the State’s Attorney’s Office’s opinion on the law, which was requested by the County Board, my sources tell me that it validates the aptly-named McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation’s interpretation of how a consolidation effort could proceed.

Whether county leaders use this opinion as a guide to put the question to voters, or as a way to throw every roadblock they can at the effort, has yet to be seen.

There are three main schools of thought regarding townships in McHenry County: they provide vital services, they’re an unnecessary anachronism, and, “What are townships?” I belong to a lesser-known fourth school, namely the poor schleps who live in Grafton Township.

Every dollar of my tax money that those tantrum-throwing township toddlers squandered in their years-long feud was a dollar that could have put food in my toddler’s mouth, Christmas presents under her tree, or money toward college.

The food, gift and higher-education needs of the children of the lawyers who made out like bandits from the battle, I’m sure, are met. All over a (thankfully) rejected plan to build a $3.5 million Taj Mahal from which Grafton could assess properties, fill potholes, administer general assistance, and justify the township’s continued existence. (“You can’t eliminate us! What would we do with this building?”)

Supporters will argue that consolidation will increase efficiency and tax relief. Opponents will argue that workers of consolidated townships will get bumped up to higher salaries and no savings will happen, or that we instead should politely ask the school districts to stop taxing us into oblivion. And township officials undoubtedly will argue that consolidation will mean the end of civilization as we know it.

But it’s an argument that the County Board should honestly facilitate. That’s what democracy is. The townships will make their case, consolidation supporters will make theirs, and the voters will decide.

That’s where this new leadership of the McHenry County Republican Party may come in handy, if it’s honest about its goal of advancing fiscal conservatism.

If some County Board members throw wrenches into the process to save a fiefdom or save a relative on a township payroll, hopefully the party finds strong candidates to give their sorry behinds a primary challenge. If our representatives in Springfield cave to pressure from townships and their attorneys to try to change the law to protect townships from consolidation, give their sorry behinds a primary challenger, too.

If the County Board ultimately rejects the township consolidation initiative, it should be on the merits or lack of them, and not because of politics or returning favors. Or because of the County Board’s belief, last on full display when it was dragged kicking and screaming into popular election of its chairman, that things are fine the way they are.

Because they’re not. And there’s not a lot more passing the buck that local taxpayers can take before the voting with their feet really starts taking off.

• Senior reporter Kevin P. Craver has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 14 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at kcraver@shawmedia.com.

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