McHenry County Board members concerned McSweeney's consolidation bill is 'flawed'

County Board members concerned McSweeney’s proposal is ‘flawed’

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks (right) talks with Board member Paula Yensen  on Thursday before a County Board meeting at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks (right) talks with Board member Paula Yensen on Thursday before a County Board meeting at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

State Rep. David McSweeney’s proposed bill that could make township elimination easier may have passed the Illinois House – but House Bill 4637 is running into trouble in the Illinois Senate and with the McHenry County Board.

A letter signed by 21 of 24 County Board members opposing the bill has made its way to the office of Gov. Bruce Rauner and now rests in the hands of state Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, who has been meeting with Terry Link, the Senate sponsor backing the bill.

“This bill has some major deficits,” said Althoff, who is a proponent of consolidation. “It makes an assumption that if the township makes a decision to dissolve, the county takes on all of its assets and responsibilities. There’s very little clarification as to how that is done.”

The County Board’s opposition letter, delivered to Rauner’s aides at an invitation-only meeting of the McHenry County Republican Party on Saturday, is missing the signatures of County Board members Craig Wilcox, Michael Rein and Yvonne Barnes.

“We respectfully request that HB 4637 be permanently put on hold until our county can minimally address the financial burden to McHenry County, its municipalities and, most importantly, the taxpayer, prior to ever passing this legislation,” the letter said.

HB 4637 is an amended version of HB 4244, co-sponsored by state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake – the state representative who chairs the consolidation committee in Springfield – and state Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee.

One of its provisions gives township boards the power to put a referendum on the ballot with a majority vote. Another includes a built-in 10 percent reduction in property taxes on both the township and road district.

That means if voters choose to eliminate the township at the polls, the property tax levies of the township and road district would transfer to McHenry County officials at 90 percent.

If 50 percent of voters support elimination at the polls, the township would be dissolved within 90 days. All property, personnel, contractual obligations and liabilities inside the township then would transfer to McHenry County.

County Board District 6 representative Jim Kearns was the force behind the letter that landed with Rauner and Althoff. The former Grafton Township supervisor said the lack of a plan on the county level is disturbing.

“We don’t have a plan, and we should immediately put a plan together,” Kearns said. “We need to have a plan for the benefit of the taxpayer so they know how they’re going to be affected.”

In an email opposing McSweeney’s bill, District 3 representative Michael Walkup characterized his concerns this way: “Serious amendments are necessary in this very flawed and ill-thought [out] and poorly researched bill, or much litigation and confusion will result,” Walkup wrote.

Fellow District 3 representative Joe Gottemoller said the bill does not address how property assessments will change; without a township assessor, those duties would fall to the county.

“None of this stuff is thought through at all,” he said. “I have a problem with unilaterally throwing it up there and suddenly the county is responsible for everything.”

McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, calls the opposition a “badge of honor” and plans to push the bill to passage under the guidance of Link.

“People are up in arms, and the people are with me,” McSweeney said, highlighting the movement to lower taxes in McHenry County. “The only opponents are professional politicians like Pam Althoff.”

Althoff contends there are no hard feelings on this issue.

“There is no attempt to derail. We are working to address the issues with this bill. We need to address the County Board in this as well,” Althoff said. “The biggest issue is that McSweeney never reached out to County Board members. Not one. He never spoke with a single senator that represents McHenry County. ... That’s the big problem.”

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