McHenry Township trustees vote no to putting road district consolidation question to voters

JOHNSBURG – McHenry Township trustees voted down a measure to place a referendum before voters in the November election asking them whether they want to abolish the road district and consolidate it into the township.

The 3-2 vote at Thursday night’s trustees meeting brought to a standstill the consolidation efforts of Trustee Bob Anderson, who began his fight to abolish townships three decades ago.

Trustees Mike Rakestraw, Stan Wojewski and Supervisor Craig Adams voted no, while Anderson and Trustee Bill Cunningham voted yes.

The township officials who voted down the resolution demanded a study to prove there would be cost savings for voters – and reasonable, civil discourse about the matter among township officials.

“We need to educate the voters, that’s all I’m asking for,” Adams said.

Anderson, a Wonder Lake barber who has been an opponent of township government, said the vote will not derail his mission.

“I’m disappointed,” Anderson said. “This is not going to slow me down. I’m going to continue.”

Anderson’s resolution followed on the heels of a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1.

The legislation 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.

The idea of having a vote without a study to prove actual cost savings to taxpayers did not sit well with some township officials – particularly Highway Commissioner James Condon, who chalked Anderson’s vendetta against the road district to personal politics.

“Mr. Anderson,” Condon said during public comment portion of Wednesday night’s meeting. “You have for 30 years tried to eliminate the township, and getting rid of the road district is just your first step. Let’s be honest with one another. That’s your goal: Get rid of the road district, and then get rid of the township.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Condon said he is not against consolidation – if it was in the best interest of the township and the people living here.

“I’m not here to stop it,” Condon said, “if it’s the right thing to do.”

State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, challenged Anderson and his fellow trustees to prove to the people that consolidating the road district actually would save taxpayers money.

“Until you can show me the money,” Reick said. “I cannot support this.”

His comments garnered applause and a standing ovation from people in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.

Reick recently filed a bill, House Bill 4190, to 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.

Although Reick stood against Anderson’s referendum, other lawmakers backed the Wonder Lake barber.

Leading up the Thursday’s meeting, Anderson had made new inroads, garnering support from several other lawmakers in Springfield.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, the legislator leading the state’s consolidation committee in Springfield, on Monday wrote an official letter supporting Anderson’s efforts to abolish the road district.

“I admire your advocacy of taxpayers in McHenry County and am grateful for your past testimony in Springfield during my past legislative committees on consolidation,” Yingling wrote. “Today, I write you in support of your efforts to consolidated duplicate layers of government, like township highway departments.”

Yingling, the state’s 62nd District representative and chairman of the Government Consolidation and Modernization Committee in Springfield, was the chief sponsor of HB 0607.

The endgame of the bill is to lower crushing property taxes in areas such as McHenry County, where residents are fleeing to find more affordable places to live, Yingling said.

“I am constantly looking for areas of government that require consolidation to help reduce the high property tax load that is unfairly placed on middle class families,” Yingling wrote in his letter to Anderson. “It is great to see you take up this issue in your area, and I appreciate your past correspondence with me.”

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, 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 services provided 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 the voters within township boundaries.

McSweeney shifted his focus to Algonquin Township, where unruly in-house lawsuits, budget-busting legal fees and numerous corruption allegations leveled against the former leader of the highway department have left the most populous township in McHenry County in turmoil.

McSweeney donated $6,300 to the political efforts of Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser, according to campaign finance records. Gasser previously supported township consolidation when he served on the McHenry County Board.

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.

McHenry Township Assessor Mary Mahady, D–McHenry, a candidate for the Illinois Senate District 32 seat, said consolidation should be supported by dollars and sense – not a majority vote.

“If there should be a change, we should see it in the numbers,” Mahady said.

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