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McHenry County Board meets township consolidation report with tough questions

WOODSTOCK – The final report of a task force created to pursue consolidating townships by referendum was met with tough questions by some McHenry County Board members.

While action on the task force’s proposals is a month away, the questions asked at Tuesday morning’s meeting indicated more than a few board members will be a tough sell.

Board member Carolyn Schofield, who was chairwoman of the five-member McHenry County Township Consolidation Task Force, said the task force only could agree on asking voters in two sets of rural townships whether they want to consolidate.

After three hearings and an open house, the task force “hit a little bit of a wall,” Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, told the County Board. Its members only recommended two referendums – one to merge Richmond and Burton townships in the county’s northeast corner, and another to merge Chemung and Dunham townships in the county’s northwest corner.

“I’m disappointed to say we could not get consensus on the remainder of the county,” Schofield said.

Although the task force could not agree on a map for the remaining townships, it advanced one to the County Board that spares no township from consolidation, and for the most part pairs off the more populous townships with each other.

Under than map, referendums also would be proposed to merge McHenry and Greenwood, Nunda and Dorr, Coral and Seneca, Marengo and Riley, and Algonquin and Grafton townships, plus a three-township merger of Alden, Hebron and Hartland townships.

A group called McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation, with the blessing of a number of high-ranking county Republican officials, asked the County Board earlier this year to put consolidation referendums to voters to halve the number of townships from 17 to eight.

Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, subsequently convened the task force – consisting of three County Board members and one township official each from both sides of the consolidation debate – to develop a map.

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

While supporters have maintained that their consolidation plan would result in a $4 million annual savings, Schofield said the total savings, if any, is completely dependent on the new officials of each township.

“In all honesty, 100 percent of where these cost savings lie are dependent on elected officials and future elected officials,” she said.

Township elected officials and employees had a heavy presence at the task force’s hearings. Many called the hearings unfair and criticized the whole process as a politically-motivated sham.

County Board members who spoke Tuesday questioned the impact on taxpayers in a consolidating township with the lower tax rate. 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 most likely see a tax increase.

“When it comes to the taxpayers, there are going to be winners and losers, and we honestly don’t understand to what extent that would be, is that correct?” board member Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, asked.

Board member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, was more blunt, and called the map the task force advanced a “non-consensus map that pretty much guarantees a tax increase for half the county.”

Any consolidation referendums the County Board approves at its Oct. 6 meeting will go to the affected townships’ voters in the March 2016 primary.

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