CRYSTAL LAKE – State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, has filed a bill that would require township trustees to pay for a cost study before they could put a proposal to consolidate road districts before voters.
The goal is to determine whether consolidation proposals actually would save taxpayers money, Reick said.
“It’s something I’ve been hearing about the need for,” Reick said. “You shouldn’t make any changes until you prove those changes can work to the benefit of the taxpayers.”
House Bill 4190 would amend the Illinois Highway Code and require townships to hire an independent contractor to conduct a cost study to determine whether abolishing a road district would be cost-effective. The study also would have to show that the township is capable of assuming road district duties. Only then could township trustees submit a referendum to abolish a road district.
“I’d like to see some concrete, numerical proof that this is going to save money,” Reick said.
The attack on townships has intensified in recent years. Voters and homeowners tired of high property taxes and the state’s worsening economic climate have been looking to cut anything from anywhere they can.
Reick’s bill follows recent news that Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has put abolishing township government at the top of his legislative priorities.
McSweeney now is working on a bill that would give voters an opportunity to eliminate township government with a majority vote – a move that would shift the work done by townships to local municipalities and the county government. His legislation would allow voters to trigger a referendum with a petition signed by 5 percent of voters within township boundaries.
In recent weeks, the Barrington Hills Republican shifted his focus to Algonquin Township, where unruly in-house lawsuits, astronomical legal fees and numerous corruption allegations at the highway department have left the most populous township in McHenry County in turmoil.
Algonquin Township has not been the only local government under pressure.
Bob Anderson – a Wonder Lake barber, longtime advocate of township consolidation and McHenry Township trustee – brought a motion to fellow trustees last week to adopt a resolution to ask voters in the November election whether they want to abolish the road district and consolidate it with the township.
McHenry Township trustees will discuss the resolution at their January meeting.
“Let the people decide,” Anderson said.
To Anderson, Reick’s bill comes from a place of deep support for township government.
“He’s in the pocket of Township Officials of Illinois,” Anderson said. “He’s stepping over his boundaries. Are you going to tell me that you’re going to put your name on the ballot and the voters are going to know everything about you and everything you’re going to do?”
Anderson’s comments offended Reick.
“I’m not in anybody’s pocket,” Reick said. “For him to imply I’m in anybody’s pocket ... well, I take umbrage at that.”
In August, Anderson urged Township Supervisor Craig Adams to determine whether McHenry County plans to conduct an independent study to examine the financial effect of township consolidation. That study has not happened.
Condon supports Reick’s bill. The road boss contends that consolidating the highway department would not save money.
“If you got rid of the road district, you would have to hire someone to do my job because the work still needs to get done,” said Condon, who manages 100 miles of road in McHenry Township. “If you hired someone with my knowledge, you’re going to pay them over $100,000 a year.”
A certified engineer in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Condon holds a master’s degree in business administration from Keller Graduate School and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Bradley University.
“Is there going to be a savings? No, I don’t think so,” Condon said. “You’re going to hire somebody to replace the role that I filled.”
The case against townships is weak, Reick said.
“The lawyer part of me is skeptical,” Reick said. “Bob hasn’t been able to prove his case to my satisfaction.”
The fight against townships has a long, rich history in McHenry County, where two decades ago, voters got the opportunity to choose how they are governed.
In 1994, Anderson spearheaded a referendum to eliminate the county’s townships the only way state law allowed – by switching from a county board to a three-member panel of county commissioners.
By a 3-1 margin, voters defeated Anderson’s referendum to abolish townships in the November 1994 election.
Although state law allows townships to be consolidated, that’s much easier said than done in political reality. In 2015, a group of officials, supported by high-ranking GOP officials, launched an initiative to ask the McHenry County Board to hold referendums to reduce the county’s 17 townships to eight.
A slapdash plan assembled by a task force that barely reached any kind of consensus was killed by the County Board on a 13-9 vote.
To Reick, township and road district consolidation come down to costs and a level of service that satisfies township residents.
“Those two things have to go together,” Reick said.
HB 4190 now is awaiting assignment to a substantive committee. Reick said he hopes lawmakers will give the legislation fair consideration when they return to Springfield in January.