Township officials throughout McHenry County are weighing the question of township elimination, but some officials are confused about the logistics of an abolishment decision.
The fate of McHenry and Nunda townships lies in the hands of voters this March, and other townships are discussing whether to pursue similar measures.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law this August that gives McHenry County voters the option to dissolve all 17 county townships via referendum. State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced the bill.
One common question among township officials is, “What happens next?”
“No one has sent a packet to say this is what it is or isn’t,” Marengo Township Supervisor John Burns said. “It’d be nice if someone said, ‘This is what you have to do and here is what’s going to happen.’ ”
Burns said he believed voters should decide on townships’ fate, but only if they’re informed.
“It’s amazing the lack of information that is out there – what it entails and what the result would be,” he said. “I firmly believe in letting the public decide, but you have to get the facts out first.”
Richmond Township Supervisor Paul Hain expressed similar questions.
“Frankly, we are puzzled with the legislation presented by [McSweeney] and what it means to us,” Hain said. “We haven’t seen any clear path yet as to what is going to happen.”
McHenry Township electors have opted to put the elimination question on the March ballot. A township committee now is considering hiring an agency to study what the financial impact of township elimination would be.
The committee – composed of Craig Adams, the township supervisor; Bob Anderson, a township board trustee who has been fighting to abolish townships for decades; Jim Condon, the township road district’s highway commissioner; and John Macrito, a township resident and activist who has been fighting to save the township and its services – will meet for the second time at 1 p.m. Thursday at the township building, 3703 N. Richmond Road.
Township Supervisor Craig Adams said he has drafted some specifications for the request-for-proposal ,but the committee will discuss what should be added to the request, and possibility where to send it at Thursday’s meeting.
Nunda Township’s board recently voted to place the question of elimination on the March ballot as well. If voters approve the measure, the township wouldn’t be eliminated until 2037.
The resolution comes as McHenry and Nunda townships’ road districts are in the process of suing McHenry County to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
Some township officials said that taxes will go up if townships are eliminated as McHenry County would bear the burden of taking over township duties.
Seneca Township Supervisor James Kagel said that his rural township’s main function is to handle the roads. Salt, gravel and paving costs are the same for any governmental unit, he said.
“The only variation is that county employees are union-scale with benefits,” he said. “Our township doesn’t operate that way. I would hate to see townships in rural areas eliminated and it ends up costing us more. I would be very unhappy with that situation.”
McHenry County officials are working to put a plan in place in the event of township elimination, but the financial piece cannot be fully answered yet, County Administrator Peter Austin said.
“I don’t know that it’s our role to be definitive on that,” Austin said. “Some gets back to the policy questions. If the township is running a social service – be it senior rides or bingo or a food pantry – those kinds of things are really valued but not mandatory. I can’t answer whether those would exist in the future. That’s a policy question and it plays into the question of ‘Will it save money?’ ”
County Board members have been discussing the possibilities since the spring, he said. The process has included discussions with the financial, administrative services and transportation committees. Legal, policy, operational and administrative questions have been turned over to the offices in charge of those issues.
“We will get a good handle on [the operational and legal] questions in the next 30 days,” he said. “The policy questions are for the policy makers.”