JOHNSBURG – The legislator leading the state’s consolidation committee in Springfield has written an official letter supporting the efforts of McHenry Township Trustee Bob Anderson to abolish the township’s 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,” wrote state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake. “Today, I write you in support of your efforts to consolidated duplicate layers of government, like township highway departments.”
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 with the township.
If trustees adopt 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.
Anderson’s resolution comes on the heels of a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1: 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.
Yingling, the state’s 62nd District representative who is 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.”
To Anderson, Yingling’s letter made the past three decades of his battle against township government worth the effort.
“It is very gratifying, and we’re getting traction going forward, Anderson said. “It makes me feel I’ve been doing the right thing all these years.”
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.
“To reach that level and to get that kind of support from a state representative, it’s overwhelming,” Anderson said.
Opponents of township consolidation contend that eliminating the road district would cost taxpayers more money than they already are paying – and would get rid of services they depend on.
“If that happens, I will bet you a steak dinner that either the services are going down or the costs are going up,” said McHenry Township Road Commissioner Jim Condon, who 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. It will cost township officials at least $100,000 to hire someone else to manage roads, Condon said.
Support for consolidation in the state capital is a ploy to garner positive political graces during a slog in Springfield that has made it difficult to address bigger struggles strangling Illinois, Condon said.
“They haven’t been able to do anything at the state level,” Condon said. “They said, ‘Hey, let’s go to the low-hanging fruit. Hey, we can get some political game. …’ That’s what I see happening.”
To Condon, lowering property taxes doesn’t require consolidation – it requires discourse between township officials.
“No state officials other than [state Rep.] Steve Reick and [state Sen.] Pam Althoff have talked to me about this,” Condon said. “Don’t you think they would spend a little time with the road commissioner to find out if it’s a good idea? ... How many times do you think Bob Anderson has been in my office?” Condon said. “Zero.”
To Reick, R-Woodstock, consolidation makes sense if it saves taxpayers money without affecting the services provided to them.
“I am not against consolidation,” Reick said. “I have a problem with larger and less accountable government. The more you move toward larger and more centralized government, the less accountable government becomes.”
Reick 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.
The Woodstock Republican is concerned about the ability of township officials to manage infrastructure as vital as roads.
“I’d like to know who on the McHenry Township Board is confident in handling a road district,” Reick said.