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New McHenry Township trustees send message of change at first meeting

McHENRY – A group of newly seated conservative McHenry Township trustees who were elected on a tax revolt slate made it clear at the board’s first meeting that they intend to make sweeping changes despite opposition.

The first McHenry Township meeting with newly elected trustees, including a longtime advocate of township consolidations or eliminations, got heated Thursday night over disagreements about prevailing wages, stipends, talk of abolishing townships and concerns from senior citizens who want to keep the services the township provides.

The meeting was at McHenry Township Hall in Johnsburg. Attendees included new Trustees Bob Anderson, Bill Cunningham and Stan Wojewski. Trustee Mike Rakestraw was absent. In the April election, the GOP trustee slate of Anderson, Rakestraw, Cunningham and Wojewski beat eight other challengers, including four independents and four members of a Democratic slate.

Right out of the gate, new trustees wanted to review the elimination of trustee stipends to try and save taxpayers money.

“What we want to accomplish is we don’t want the stipend,” Anderson said before the meeting. “School board members don’t get a stipend, and we don’t think township trustees should get one.”

Anderson, who is the owner of Bob’s Countryside Barber Shop in Wonder Lake and discovered nails in his shop’s parking lot after being elected, long has wanted to eliminate or consolidate townships.

McHenry Township trustees receive a stipend of $100 a meeting, something Anderson said he believes is unnecessary.

However, a written statement from Prime Law Group LLC out of Woodstock said that it is the group’s opinion that it is not legal for the trustees to modify their salaries during their term, and the compensation of township trustees must be fixed by ordinance. Instead, the trustees are allowed to take the stipend and donate it to charity or whomever they wish.

“So according to this opinion, you would have to accept your pay, but you are free to donate it to any charity you would like, and we could make that known,” said Township Supervisor Craig Adams, who ran as an independent in the April election.

According to the Township Officials of Illinois, there are more than 1,400 townships in the state. During the meeting, Anderson said that with the thousands of trustees serving in the state, eliminating a salary for them would result in huge savings across the state.

Township trustees’ stipends vary by area. According to the Grafton Township website, its trustees are paid $125 a meeting. Meetings are held once a month.

“I’m here to make issues of, ‘How do we quit taking money from taxpayers?’ ” Anderson said. “ … I think we have to take a different look at how we run things.”

Another problem that came up during the meeting involved approving prevailing wage ordinances for the town and road district. The prevailing wage law requires all contractors and subcontractors for works built by any public body with public funds be paid the hourly rate set by the Illinois Department of Labor for that county.

Anderson and Cunningham voted against it, rejecting to approve the prevailing wage ordinances.

“It’s no more than union protectionism,” Cunningham said.

Adams and Wojewski voted in favor of the ordinance. With a tie, the measure did not pass.

“We still have to pay prevailing wage no matter what the outcome of this vote is,” Adams said.

Toward the end of the meeting, McHenry resident Judy Mueller came to the podium to talk about keeping the McHenry Township Senior Center. Mueller said she was concerned that the new trustees would eliminate the township’s senior services.

“Many people go out there and eat every day. They have no place else to go, and that’s their home,” Mueller said.

Anderson replied by saying that eliminating townships can’t be done overnight, and there’s a lot of moving parts and state laws that first have to be changed.

“There’s a lot of people in this state that do agree that townships should be gone, and I’m one of them,” Anderson said.

After the meeting, Anderson said he felt others at the meeting forced the matter to be about abolishing townships, but he wanted to make the meeting about eliminating stipends to save taxpayers money.

“I’m going to give mine to [McHenry County] PADS,” Anderson said.

After the meeting, Adams said he understands Anderson’s stance about abolishing townships to save taxpayers money because property taxes are too high. Adams said he agreed that they are too high, but he said it’s not because of townships or local governments.

“The township is the smallest portion of that bill,” Adams said. “And even if [it] were eliminated, there’s no hard study that says we’re going to save any money.”

“The responsibility for these property taxes is not local government – we stay within our budgets,” Adams said. “It’s the state of Illinois that can’t even pass a budget.”

Adams said he hopes future meetings will stick to the matters that are on the agenda.

Townships have three statutory responsibilities under Illinois government – to assess property, maintain township roads and distribute general assistance. The McHenry Township government, not including the road district, operates on a budget of $2.2 million a year.

The next township meeting is July 13.

Thursday’s meeting was livestreamed and can be viewed on YouTube under the “McHenry Township” account.

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