WOODSTOCK – Opponents and skeptics of consolidating McHenry County’s townships had their say at the first meeting of a working group convened to examine the issue.
The first hour of Tuesday’s meeting of the McHenry County Consolidation Task Force was dominated by public comment – much of it from township officials – who criticized the idea, the process and the motives behind an initiative to halve the number of townships from 17 to eight.
Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller was one of several who said consolidation would not lead to any cost savings or improved efficiency.
“The most important question isn’t the [referendum] question – it’s not the map. It’s, ‘Do we want to do this; is this a good idea?’ … This is truly a bad idea,” Miller said.
A residents’ group called McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation has asked the County Board to put consolidation referendums to voters in the March primary.
Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, selected the task force and charged it over the next several months with exploring the issue, crafting a resolution and proposing a map of new townships and boundaries.
Consolidation group member Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake, a longtime opponent of township government, pointed out that many of the opponents who attended and spoke at the meeting had positions to protect.
He questioned the idea that consolidation would result in diminished services, and he pointed out that neighboring states have far fewer units of government than the almost 7,000 Illinois has – by far the largest number of any state.
“Somehow they get the roads plowed, somehow they get stuff done without all these governments,” Anderson said.
Townships under Illinois law have three statutory functions – assess properties, maintain roads and provide assistance for constituents in need – but many also have added services such as senior transportation, food banks and local programs.
While supporters of townships call them vital and the most direct and responsive government taxpayers have, opponents call them unnecessary anachronisms rife with nepotism and patronage.
Task force member Mike Shorten, a Nunda Township trustee and founding member of the pro-consolidation group, said savings will come from newly consolidated townships finding new economies of scale. He projected a total cost savings of $40 million over 10 years.
But task force member and Coral Township Supervisor Roger Naylor pounced on Shorten’s assumptions. Much of the task force’s discussion was a back-and-forth between the two township officials.
“So you’ve done no in-depth studies or comparisons of even two of the proposed townships in any way, shape or form?” Naylor said. “I have to understand the nuts and bolts of this, not a pie in the sky.”
Marengo Township Supervisor Steve Weskerna, who as a former school board member helped consolidate three elementary districts, told the task force that proceeding without an outside, third-party cost-benefit analysis “… is both careless and irresponsible.”
“Let’s de-politicize this initiative and do it the right way in the name of the taxpayers of McHenry County,” Weskerna said.
Task force members compiled a list of information and data they would like to see before their next meeting Aug. 11. Task force chairwoman and County Board member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, said she wants the group to have all the information it can get to make as complete and informed a recommendation as possible.
But task force member Donna Kurtz warned that the task force owes it to the voters to make a timely decision as to whether to advance the proposal. Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, and Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock, are the County Board’s other two representatives on the task force.
“At the end, we don’t want paralysis by analysis. We don’t want to run out the clock,” Kurtz said.
Several highway commissioners at the start of the meeting called the task force fundamentally flawed for not having a commissioner as one of its members.
Township highway departments have complete autonomy from township boards under state law and are, in essence, a separate government.