Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law Friday a bill that gives McHenry County voters the power to dissolve all 17 of the county’s townships, said Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who sponsored the bill.
“Rising property taxes overburden homeowners across the state, and this administration is committed to exploring all options to provide communities with relief,” Pritzker said in a statement. “After hearing from local stakeholders on their desire for government consolidation, I am signing [House Bill] 348 and look forward to seeing how this bill works for the taxpayers of McHenry County.”
Under the law, voters are allowed to submit a petition of signatures – with at least 250 signatures or the signatures of 5% of the number of voters in a previous comparable election – requesting a referendum to dissolve their township.
Trustees of any township in the county also can pass a resolution calling for a referendum asking whether the township should be dissolved.
McSweeney – who introduced a similar measure last year that was vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner – said consolidation is one of the key components to lowering property taxes.
“[The state] has 7,000 units of local government,” McSweeney said. “We need to consolidate, and this is a good step toward consolidation.”
The law also offers tax cuts to residents of a dissolved township.
Any taxes levied by the county for the township’s area cannot exceed 90% of the taxes levied by the former township government.
McSweeney thanked Pritzker, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek – who picked up the bill in the Senate – and Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, for their efforts in getting the law passed.
Franks – who had been in communication with Pritzker about the bill – said he was enthusiastic about its passage and thinks it’s a great start in allowing voters the opportunity to decide what they want to do about township government.
“This is not a mandate,” Franks said. “It allows citizens to determine the structure of their government, and I don’t see how anyone could be against that.”
The law also requires the abolishment of road districts in McHenry and Lake counties that maintain fewer than 15 miles of road. McSweeney said there are no road districts in McHenry County that maintain such a small stretch of roads, but there are a handful in Lake County.
As for townships, McSweeney said he believes Algonquin Township should be the first place to start for consolidation.
“With the legal bills, the drama and the back-and-forth, it is an absolute example of a government that should be eliminated,” McSweeney said.
Algonquin Township Trustee Dan Shea said if the public wants to get rid of the township, then that’s OK. However, those pushing for the legislation are the ones creating the problems used to justify abolishment, he said.
Shea said the problems between the township and the Algonquin Township Highway Department started when Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser was elected. McSweeney did not give money to Gasser’s highway commissioner campaign, but he had donated to previous campaigns for Gasser and paid him for canvassing.
“For the most part, most people were happy with what we were supplying over here,” Shea said.
According to campaign finance records, McSweeney donated $6,300 to Gasser’s political efforts.
He also previously said road commissioners have little financial oversight, which can lead to problems such as those that have cropped up within Algonquin Township.
McHenry Township Supervisor Craig Adams said he expects the board to bring up township consolidation as a resolution as soon as it can. However, he said he believes voters soundly would defeat any proposal to dissolve McHenry Township, as they did with road district consolidation proposals.
“It will be a large margin, just as the road district was,” Adams said.
Adams also challenged the estimate of 7,000 units of government in Illinois, saying that unlike school or park districts, many documented governments in McHenry County were approved by voters.
“A lot of those [in McHenry County] were [special service areas] that people chose to vote on and pay for themselves,” Adams said.
Adams also questioned the possible savings, saying townships account for about 2% of the tax rate and would result in an estimated $15 to $20 savings for the average taxpayer.