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McHenry Township officials approve putting consolidation referendum on November ballot

3-2 vote in favor of the measure comes month after same board voted down referendum

JOHNSBURG – McHenry Township officials voted Tuesday night to put a referendum to voters in November asking whether the road district should be eliminated.

At a special meeting, Trustees Mike Rakestraw, Bob Anderson and Bill Cunningham voted in favor of the measure, while Trustee Stan Wojewski and Supervisor Craig Adams voted against it. The 3-2 vote in favor of the measure came one month after the same board voted down the referendum. Rakestraw previously had voted “no.”

Anderson, a Wonder Lake barber who has been fighting to abolish townships for decades, said the vote is a major victory.

“I’m extremely happy to have that reversed,” Anderson said. “This is a really rare opportunity for a resident to have a chance at the ballot box to reduce the size and cost of Illinois’ 7,000 governments.”

The meeting drew more than 100 residents – and a visit from the Johnsburg Police Department to settle down attendees who got into a squabble over their differences, Anderson said.

Officers were not available Wednesday to comment on what happened.

A debate leading up to Tuesday’s vote featured two arguments about consolidation. Proponents fought to let the voters decide, while opponents contended that there should be an independent cost study conducted to prove whether consolidation would save taxpayers money.

The referendum to go on November’s ballot is attached to a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1. House Bill 607 allows township trustees to ask voters whether they want the road district abolished and its responsibilities given to the township supervisor.

A majority vote would push that plan into motion, eliminating the road district at the end of the current highway commissioner’s term.

To Anderson, the referendum represents a changing tide in Illinois politics.

“It’s a tipping point here,” Anderson said. “Even if this is a small little movement, residents are excited to be a part of it.”

Anderson said he plans to run a strong campaign to recruit voters to join the consolidation movement. He tentatively is calling it “Citizens for Saving Illinois.”

“I don’t think it can be done by the people elected,” Anderson said. “It can only come from a citizens-driven grass-roots effort.”

Other township officials are planning a campaign in the opposite direction. McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon said it’s important that voters get as much information as they can about consolidation and whether it would save them money before they visit the polls.

“I personally don’t have a problem with voters making a decision, provided they have good facts,” said Condon, adding that consolidation likely would result in little to no cost savings. “What’s the purpose of this? From this point on, I’m going to do my darnedest to get as much good information to voters as possible.”

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.

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