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Wonder Lake's Bob Anderson could see small victory in quest to end township government

McHenry Township trustee makes inroads in consolidation efforts

JOHNSBURG – Bob Anderson declared a war against townships almost three decades ago.

Anderson, a Wonder Lake barber, has seen little support from his political peers, and progress has been slow.

Now backed by the support of some legislators in Springfield and a new state law that gives voters the power to consolidate units of government, it appears Anderson is on the verge of taking a small step toward his controversial goal of abolishing townships.

"For years, he’s been talking about it," said state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills. "Finally, now he’s in the mainstream of thinking."

Anderson and fellow McHenry Township trustees are set to vote on a resolution Thursday that would ask voters in the November election whether they want to abolish the road district and consolidate it into the township.

If trustees pass the resolution, and a majority of residents vote in favor of consolidation in November, the McHenry Township Road District and the highway commissioner will be gone by the end of his term.

"I think it will pass," Anderson said. "I’m looking forward to having this issue go not just countywide, but statewide."

McHenry Township Supervisor Craig Adams is against putting the question to voters without an independent study to prove whether consolidation will save taxpayers money – but he expects the resolution to pass.

"It looks like Anderson will have the votes," Adams said. "[But] to put this question to the voters before we know about the cost savings is irresponsible."

Anderson's resolution follows on the heels of a new state law that went into effect Monday: House Bill 0607. 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.

The endgame? Lower property taxes for Illinois residents, legislators who sponsored the bill have said.

“The only way we’re going to lower property taxes is to lower the number of governments,” McSweeney said. “People are sick and tired of the high property taxes, and consolidation is necessary.” 

McSweeney 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.

The fight against townships in McHenry County started long before infighting engulfed Algonquin Township.

Two decades ago, voters got the opportunity to choose how they are governed.

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.

Anderson has since shifted his focus to road districts.

"People don’t realize how much spending power the road commissioner has and how little oversight there is," Anderson said.

State legislators supporting the new consolidation law agreed.

"There is absolutely no level of accountability," said Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, who sponsored HB 0607. "[Road districts] are almost an autonomous level of government. They have almost no oversight of their spending and their budget."

Township boards have little to no say in how highway commissioners run the highway department, Yingling said.

"The only way for a township board to resolve a conflict with a road commissioner is through legal action," Yingling said.

Consolidation opponents have said that getting rid of the highway department and shuffling its responsibilities to the township supervisor's office would be disastrous.

“I’m not qualified to manage that department, I’ll be the first to tell you that," Adams said. "I’d have to hire someone who is qualified to manage the roads. I’d have to hire a civil engineer, which is what I already have.” 

McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon manages 100 miles of township roads. A certified engineer in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Condon holds a master’s degree in business administration from Keller Graduate School and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Bradley University. He earns an annual gross salary of $83,269.

Adams said the township will have to pay more than that to hire someone to manage township roads.

Condon, who spent more than two decades in the private sector designing roads and working as an engineering consultant, said consolidation will cost township taxpayers more money than they're already paying.

"They would have to hire somebody to replace me, that's the bottom line," Condon said. "If you have somebody of my qualifications, you're going to pay over $100,000."

Condon pointed to Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, who filed a bill that would require township trustees to pay for a cost study before they could put a proposal to consolidate road districts to voters.

HB 4190 would 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.

Reick could not be reached for comment.

Yingling, Reick's Democrat counterpart in Springfield, said the Woodstock Republican is getting in the way of what Illinois residents are demanding.

“It is an intentional measure to slow down the consolidation efforts that voters so desperately want," Yingling said.

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