CRYSTAL LAKE – The fight over government consolidation in McHenry County has pitted the agendas of two Republican state representatives against each other.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has pushed a bill out of his office that could give voters the power to abolish any of McHenry County’s 17 townships with a majority vote at the polls.
Then there’s state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, who filed his own bill last year that would require trustees to pay for a cost study before they could put a proposal to consolidate road districts before voters – an ability now afforded by a new state law enacted when House Bill 607 took effect in January.
It appears Reick will have an uphill battle.
The representatives will face off at a hearing Tuesday afternoon in Springfield, where a committee led by state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat and consolidation supporter, and McSweeney, the committee’s Republican spokesman, will address Reick’s proposed legislation – House Bill 4190.
“Until they can show me that this will save money, I cannot support consolidation,” Reick said. “Nobody has done that.”
Accompanying Reick in Springfield will be McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon, who has been in a battle with the township’s board of trustees.
Led by longtime consolidation supporter Bob Anderson, trustees have battled with Condon, Supervisor Craig Adams and outspoken residents about whether a referendum should appear on November election ballots asking voters whether the road district should be eliminated.
McHenry Township trustees already have voted down the measure once this year and plan to hold a special meeting Tuesday to vote again.
To Condon, Reick’s bill looks out for voters by offering them information to shape their opinions about whether consolidation actually would save money on their property tax bills.
“I am going down to Springfield to support Reick’s trailer bill,” Condon said. “I will be there to comment on it.”
Leading up to the hearing, Reick has published an online survey on his website asking supporters and constituents whether there should be an independent cost study conducted to prove whether consolidation would create savings before a referendum could go to voters.
HB4190 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 legislation is a trailer bill that would alter the new law, which allows trustees to put a referendum to voters without requiring a cost study.
On the other side of the issue is McSweeney, who, like the cadre of consolidation supporters behind him, contends that the voters should have the power to decide what their government looks like – and a cost study is not necessary.
“That’s all I’m trying to do is to give the people the voice to make the decision,” McSweeney said. “The best way to debate it is to allow voters to make that decision.”
In his campaign to abolish townships, McSweeney has been adamant that the first step to cutting the crushing property taxes forcing homeowners to flee McHenry County is consolidation of smaller government.
“I cannot buy that on faith,” Reick said.
Although Reick and McSweeney oppose each other’s views on consolidation, the assemblymen describe their relationship as cordial and professional; there is no personal hatred brewing between the two Republican representatives in the hallways of the state capital.
“We say, ‘Hello,’ ” Reick said. “He’s got his agenda, I’ve got mine.”
“It’s business,” McSweeney said, “not personal.”