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.
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.
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.
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.