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Algonquin Township trustees to discuss abolishing road district

CRYSTAL LAKE – Algonquin Township officials will debate a topic that’s been the center of government turmoil elsewhere in McHenry County: abolishing the road district.

On Feb. 14, Algonquin Township trustees will discuss putting a referendum to voters in November asking whether they want to eliminate the road commissioner position and consolidate road district responsibilities into the township. If a referendum goes to the ballot, all it would take is a majority vote to swing into motion the termination of the road district under House Bill 607.

The road district would be eliminated at the end of the current highway commissioner’s term. Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser, who previously supported township consolidation when he served on the McHenry County Board, could not be reached for comment.

The consolidation conversation would make Algonquin Township the second McHenry County township to explore the possibility of eliminating the road district in recent months.

Less than one month after McHenry Township trustees voted down a referendum that would allow residents to eliminate the road district with a majority vote at the polls in November, the board will take another vote Thursday.

Some Algonquin Township trustees welcome the debate, while others contend it’s a step in the wrong direction.

“I’m pleased that the state Legislature has granted township boards the ability to pass a resolution, which enables the citizens to vote to abolish the road district and transfer its functions to the township, rather than separate taxing bodies,” Trustee Rachael Lawrence said in a statement to the Northwest Herald. “The unchecked power of road district highway commissioners leaves township taxpayers vulnerable to abuse and corruption, as we have seen in townships throughout our state. I fully support empowering the voters to provide necessary board oversight over the maintenance of township roads and those employed to do so.”

Although a supporter of township government as a whole, Trustee Dave Chapman said discussion of consolidation is healthy and vital to good government.

“I’m a huge proponent of townships as a very effective form of government,” Chapman said, “but I want to at least have the discussion.”

Chapman said he has received calls from Algonquin Township residents concerned about conflicts stemming from within the highway department.

“After the fiasco that this has been, I’ve had more than one resident say we need to take over the road district,” Chapman said.

Trustee Melissa Victor said consolidating the road district is a bad idea.

“It would get really messy,” Victor said. “It should stay separate from the township. I believe they are two separate entities, and it should stay separate.”

Victor’s gripe with the road district is that the commissioner is an elected position – often filled by a candidate with no experience managing roads.

“The highway commissioner needs to be held accountable for his actions and his budget,” Victor said. “I believe there should be qualifications in order to run as an elected position.”

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.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed a bill in January that would give voters an opportunity to eliminate township government with a majority vote. The move would shift the services provided by townships to local municipalities and the county government.

McSweeney shifted his focus to Algonquin Township, which recently has endured unruly in-house lawsuits, budget-busting legal fees and numerous corruption allegations leveled against the former leader of the highway department.

McSweeney has taken a particular interest in Algonquin Township’s ballooning legal costs – more than $300,000 through December – and failure of elected officials to communicate or govern.

Bob Miller, who served as highway commissioner for 24 years, now is the subject of a grand jury investigation into official misconduct related to road district spending over the past decade. He has not been charged with a crime.

McSweeney said road commissioners have little financial oversight, which can lead to problems such as those that have cropped up in the township.

Gasser is a friend of McSweeney’s who helped him on the campaign trail in past elections. McSweeney donated $6,300 to the political efforts of Gasser, according to campaign finance records.

The next Algonquin Township meeting is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at 3702 Route 14, Crystal Lake.

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