That Township Consolidation Question

As reported Friday in the article “Republicans Celebrate Non-Partisan Victories in Woodstock,” Bob Anderson was soliciting endorsements for a township consolidation referendum.

I told him I wanted to see a cost-benefit study first.

In other words, if I were on the County Board, I wouldn’t vote to put a township consolidation referendum on the ballot until I could examine projections showing a high likelihood of tax dollars being saved.

Sunday, the Northwest Herald seemed to editorialize in favor of such a ballot question.

The editorial suggested that Illinois has the second highest property taxes because it has the second largest number of local governments.

The editorial argues that consolidation would save money…”Unless it is done with breathtaking incompetence, it it’s difficult to see how it could not.”

I’m not about to defend the hiring of family members in township governments, but to argue that bigger governmental units will cost less money–presumably because of economies of scale–is not an automatic conclusion to your author, who has a master’s degree in public administration and has taught state and local government at Harper and Rockford College.

I have been told that the highway employees in smaller townships can’t wait to get higher salaries, health insurance and pensions after townships are consolidated.

A map of McHenry County showing its seventeen townships, plus municipalities.

A map of McHenry County showing its seventeen townships, plus municipalities.

The NWH is correct that the huge number of local governments spreads the power so broadly that citizens cannot hope to keep track of all the tax hikers.

And, I am sure that an examination of township reserves will show tremendously totally unjustifiable surpluses in many cases.

Valley Hi

Valley Hi is sitting on almost $39 million in reserves.  The total tax bill for McHenry County government besides the Conservation District was $78.6 million.

Just as McHenry County government has an unjustifiable $39 million in the bank account of its nursing home, Valley Hi.  (The entire county real estate tax bill was $78,627,450.67 last year, plus $19,713,015.16 requested by the Conservation District.)

But, the paper has not done such a township study and, if the township consolidation folks have done such an analysis, it has not been released.

The paper considered townships so irrelevant that no stories were written about the Annual Town Meetings held in each of McHenry County’s seventeen townships last Monday.

So how are voters to know if township consolidation is “in the interest of taxpayers,” as the NW Herald editorial puts it?

Neither the paper nor the proponents have given us more than “fewer governments good; more governments bad” argument.

Ironically, NWH columnist Kevin Craver writes an unintentionally related column entitled, “Agenda journalism gathers no moss,” in the same Sunday paper.

He talks about media outlets “pushing the narrative.”

While his column is unrelated to local government, there is an undoubted Chicagoland media narrative about township government’s being bad.

Just as there is a narrative on McHenry County Blog that McHenry County’s property taxes–in the top thirty counties in the United States of America–are too high.

Tax House McH Split 2013

Townships took 3.2 percent of McHenry County’s property tax dollars in 2013.

Not that in the big scheme of things governmental that township government is high on the list of governments worth monitoring.

There has been no recent fact-checking about township government by the NW Herald.

That’s probably because township government spends so relatively little.

3.2 cents of each real estate dollar in 2013.

And the NWH has too few reporters.

But Craver’s argument is that reporters should check things out before writing their stories.

I would argue that there is a very large missing piece to the township consolidation story.

This question has not begun to be answered:

Will consolidating townships save taxpayers money or not?

That is the question for which the County Board should require an answer before putting a township consolidation question on the ballot.

Certainly, State Rep. Jack Frank’s much-praised law to allow the consolidation of cemetery districts in Nunda and Richmond Townships with their township governments will save absolutely no money.

To answer that question of whether consolidating township governments will save money or not, someone must perform a cost-benefit study…which can then be analyzed by those on the opposite of the question.

That is not the job of the County Board.

That is the responsibility of referendum proponents.

That will require more than a parade of horribles about township government.

I certainly will admit that such a series of stories can probably be written.

I want and I think County Board members should require something substantially more rigorous.

And, while they are waiting, perhaps they can figure out a way to give back most of the almost $39 million sitting idle in the Valley Hi bank and investment accounts.


That Township Consolidation Question — 8 Comments

  1. Well said Cal.

    The biggest rap against Twhs is Nepotism which granted looks bad.

    So ambition people with a mouth piece should start a referendum to have that made illegal in all Gov agencies, there will be no lack of people willing to sign.

    Consolidation or elimination should be proven with facts and numbers like you said.

    Horror stories are common in all forms of gov sadly.

    The only way to save on our tax bills is to cut services, a thing most people are really not willing to do when it’s their services that is considered to be cut.

  2. Not only Nepotism but wages that are WELL out of alignment with market value and skill set.

    Eliminate the unnecessary middle management and you will save.

    Haven’t met a Township paid elected official yet that could earn the same wage on the private sector.

    I find it fascinating that Ursel and Diane E. who are so anti government everywhere else are so pro Township- of course they are both getting a pension from their township gigs.

  3. One of my pet peeves is how township officials use general population increases in the township to justify higher pay and budgets. If you look at the current county townships you will see a correlation between township populations and the pay scales for township officials and the size of their staffs and office overhead.

    It may make surface sense to think that growth in population equates with more work for township officials but that is not necessarily the case as about 90% of that growth typically takes place within municipal boundaries due to annexations.

    There is a direct correlation between township population and the assessor as the assessor has to assess all of the properties in the township whether or not they are within corporate limits, so those salaries and budgets should be reflective of overall population increases.

    However, the same is not necessarily true for the Supervisor and Road Commissioner.

    In the case of the latter, more annexation usually means less road mileage remains unincorporated and hence the responsibility of the township.

    The only exception to this is where subdivisions are built in unincorporated areas, which is only true 10% or less of the time historically, and rarely takes place at all today as those lower density developments are not as profitable.

    As for the Supervisors, one of their main functions is the distribution of interim public assistance (query why that just can’t be done by IDPA when the same people go to the state to apply for state welfare benefits, but that is another topic).

    When township population expands is it because more new housing units are being built.

    Although we now have legislation that requires a certain percentage of new housing be ‘affordable” that has only been the case fairly recently.

    Prior to that, when new housing was built it was mainly for people who weren’t going to be applying for interim public assistance.

    That type of housing stock is usually older and remains stable.

    Even with the affordable housing requirement,the numbers of new people applying for assistance from the township should not justify the types of increases we have seen in the salaries and budgets for the Supervisors.

    Many of the other functions performed by Supervisors today are make work opportunities that were added as optional activities by the legislature at the request of townships once they started coming under fire.

    If the townships are consolidated, the voters are going to need to watch like hawks to see that the newly elected officials of the larger townships don’t try to use the larger areas and populations to justify large increases in their salaries and budgets.

    There is going to be a temptation to raise the argument that the salaries should simply be the combined totals of what the officials were being paid in each township prior to the consolidation.

    That is the time for the taxpayers, in their capacity as voters for the township boards which set these salaries, to critically evaluate the salary structures.

    If that is not done, there will be no savings from consolidation.

  4. Not to worry Irish…

    I will be on the township and smaller government issues shortly.

    Just finishing up a move and am chomping-at-the-bit to hit several other topics as well.

    By the by, my name is Ersel.

    Hope your “comments” are more accurate.

  5. Mr. Anderson filed a FOIA with Townships for pension and benefits data.

    Maybe he could enlighten the ignorant residents (represented by Inish?) as to what Townships have what benefit packages.

    Then maybe he could provide us with a graph to display road maintenance costs per lane mile for townships compared to MCDOT and municipalities.

    Mr. Walkup may want to contact the Supervisor at Greenwood and inquire as to increase / decrease in the number of GA cases over the last ten years.

  6. The best government is small, local, CONTROLLABLE government, like townships.

    However, just as the unions are the backbone of the Democrats in Illinois, townships are the backbone of the GOP, which is why the Democrats need it gone.

    Mike Walkup is one example of our long-time Democrats masquerading as Republicans up in McHenry County, so his position against local control of our communities is totally undertandable.

  7. The biggest financial problem in the State of Illinois is not caused by too many governments.

    Our #1 problem is legislative pension benefit hikes to UNDERFUNDED pensions.

    #2 problem is salary hikes when pensions were already UNDERFUNDED, causing a bigger underfunding in pensions.

    #3 problem diverting funding during budgeting from pensions that were already UNDERFUNDED to salaries and other ares.

    #4 problem is legislative retiree healthcare benefit hikes to UNDERFUNDED or NON-FUNDED retiree healthcare programs.

    #5 problem is issuing pension obligation bonds to fund pensions that were already UNDERFUNDED, freeing up money to hike salaries, which hikes UNDERFUNDED pensions.

    There were and are no common sense basic controls in place.

    For example, it should have been ILLEGAL to provide legislative hikes to already UNDERFUNDED pensions and retiree healthcare.

    In other words, our legislature and the Governors were deceiving the public because they never explained the schemes to the public.

    It obviously serves no public good, in fact it financially harms and deceives the public (because the hikes were buried and not properly disclosed).

    Furthermore, consolidating government has the potential for larger more powerful public section unions, where unions are present or where unions could be formed.

    There is a law in Illinois that for school district consolidation, the teachers in the lesser paid district get an automatic pay hike to match the higher paid district.

    Furthermore, in the past there were typically financial incentives from the State to the new school district to defray the cost of the hiked salaries, but that was phased out after 3 or 4 years, and then the local taxpayers fully fund the higher salariers.

    So if money can be saved and / or serviced improved for the same cost, in consolidating townships or any form of government, great, but the consolidating should be carefully analyzed including a report with the details and public hearing.

    There are not even basic common sense taxpayer protections and transparency in place at existing larger governments.

    Look at Crystal Lake High School District 155, a very large taxing district, whom does not video and audiotape board meetings and archive them on their website; does not publish the IMRF Over $75K Compensation Report on its website; and didn’t in any common sense way notify the public or village of the super tall bleachers that were installed at Crystal Lake South.

    So bigger is not necessarily better.

    In fact, CHSD 155 is a high paying high school district, because according to the union you can never pay teachers enough, more money means better results, and a kindergarten teacher should earn as much as a high school physics teacher.

    Probably even better than consolidation is if more people watchdog taxing districts and state government agencies, because irregardless of size a watchdog is needed especially in Illinois with its nutty rules, just that bigger districts need more watchdogs for proper coverage.

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