Local Government

McHenry County township consolidation: Lots of talk, little consensus on task force

WOODSTOCK – A task force convened to examine halving the number of McHenry County townships through consolidation could agree only on merging a few of them.

After three meetings and hours of debate and examining numbers, the only consolidation proposals the McHenry County Township Consolidation Task Force could agree on recommending to the full County Board were proposals to combine two rural sets of townships.

A majority of the five-member task force agreed Tuesday to recommend voter referendums to merge Richmond and Burton townships in the county’s northeast corner, and Chemung and Dunham townships in the northwest corner.

But while the task force couldn’t reach consensus on any of the three proposed consolidation maps it created, it will advance one that spares no township from consolidation, and for the most part pairs the more heavily populated and urbanized ones off with each other.

It will be up to the 24-member County Board to decide whether to put referendums to township residents in the March primary asking voters if they want to consolidate their particular townships.

And while the County Board could decide to run with more than just the two, the lack of consensus by the task force undoubtedly will play a significant role into what, if any, proposals advance.

“I think we’ve created a lot more questions than answers,” task force Chairwoman and County Board member Carolyn Schofield,R-Crystal Lake, said before the meeting adjourned.

A group called McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation, with the blessing of a number of high-ranking county Republican officials, asked the County Board earlier this year to put consolidation referendums to voters to halve the number of townships from 17 to eight.

Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, subsequently convened the five-member task force – three County Board members and one township official each from both sides of the consolidation debate – to explore the issue and recommend action if justified.

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.

Conversely, township officials and employees, who heavily attended all three task force hearings, scoff at the idea pushed by consolidation supporters that merging townships will save taxpayers millions and not affect any services.

Task force member and County Board representative Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, presented data from the consolidation group that concluded that consolidation will save taxpayers about $4 million a year through fewer officials, employees and equipment. The group argues that changing times and a growing amount of annexation into municipalities has decreased the need for townships.

“This is why we do consolidation, whether we’re in business or we’re in government,” Kurtz said.

But township officials have questioned the numbers, specifically on the grounds that the demand for many services, such as assessing every property in each township, will stay the same.

Task force member and Coral Township Supervisor Roger Naylor expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole process after the meeting adjourned. The county’s township supervisors chose him to be their voice on the panel.

“This is weak at best, and that’s what bothers me,” Naylor said. “I can’t deal with the weakness of not knowing real numbers.”

The third County Board member on the task force, Greenwood Township resident Michele Aavang, said she wanted to give the consolidation effort a real chance. But in the end she said that real numbers and real proof of the benefits of consolidation never materialized to her satisfaction.

Aavang, R-Woodstock, also said she had serious issues with a 24-member County Board voting on consolidation referendums for four very rural townships, each represented by one-sixth of the board.

“I want you all to know how disappointed I have been with this whole process,” Aavang said to the applause of audience members, mostly township officials and employees, who remained after three hours.

The city of Harvard lies within Chemung and Dunham townships, while Richmond and Burton townships contain the villages of Richmond, Spring Grove and the McHenry County portion of Fox Lake.

Schofield will present the task force’s findings to the County Board at its Sept. 1 meeting, but a vote on any proposed referendums will not come until October.

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