McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is on record as supporting Representative David McSweeney’s Township consolidation bill (H.B. 4637), saying that “We want to be a laboratory for the state.”This may make for a good sound bite, but in this, the 200th anniversary year of the publication of “Frankenstein”, I’d just as soon not be one of the Chairman’s lab rats.
The reason I say that is that H.B. 4637 will likely be up for a vote in the Senate next week. I’ve written about this before when it was introduced as H.B. 4244, which died. But like Mary Shelley’s monster, the bill has been resurrected, and its story bears repeating.
These are my main concerns with the bill:
- It would allow voters in (only) McHenry County to abolish a township by forcing a referendum onto an election ballot with a petition containing signatures of at least 5 percent of voters from a previous comparable election. Think about that for a minute. On April 4, 2017, an election was held in Algonquin Township to elect sundry township-wide officials, and the average turnout of the 4 races was 5,956. If all it takes to put a dissolution referendum before the voters on a similar, off-peak ballot is 5% of the vote, then all it would take is for 298 people to allow proponents to force a vote upon over 90,000 of their neighbors to abolish the township.
It would require that the County take over the functions of a dissolved Township within 90 days of passage. Several months ago, over 20 members of the County Board sent a letter indicating that there is no way the County could undertake those functions in such a short period of time. Chairman Franks was visiting the House last week and I asked him how he expected to make that transition happen, and he told me that he’d be happy to enter into any number of inter-governmental agreements so as to delay the handover. Obviously this has not been thought through. When would he decide to get around to it? My guess is 2020, when he could use it to beat people over the head in an election year for a township’s failure to heed “the word of the people”.
- The bill provides that the Township levies to be transferred to the County be reduced to 90% of the previous levy. This is an implicit acknowledgement that the mandate for Townships to provide General Assistance is being kicked to the curb. Ask Representative McSweeney about this. If he says that those functions can be taken over by the social service agencies that exist at the county level, where does he expect the money to come from, the levy having been cut by 10%? Answer: That burden will fall upon the rest of the taxpayers in McHenry County.
- It’s likely that there will be a division of responsibility for road maintenance between municipalities within a dissolved township and the County. How is the motor fuel tax supposed to be allocated?
- If this bill is so good, why has co-sponsor Sam Yingling not proposed it for his own county, or better yet, why haven’t McSweeney, Yingling, et al provided for statewide application?
H.B. 4637 (and its predecessor, H.B. 4244) is the legislative corollary to the old line “bad facts make bad law”. From a story in the Northwest Herald discussing the bill:
McSweeney’s bill follows on the heels of the in-house lawsuits, budget-busting legal fees and corruption allegations that have engulfed Algonquin Township.
“[Algonquin Township] is the best example of bad government,” McSweeney said. “It is a great example of a government that will hopefully be eliminated.”
This is rich, given that Representative McSweeney was instrumental in installing the person he now blames for the dysfunction in Algonquin Township. From the same Northwest Herald article:
“[Algonquin Township Road Commissioner Andrew] Gasser is a friend of McSweeney’s who helped him on the campaign trail in past elections. McSweeney donated $6,300 to the political efforts of Gasser, according to campaign finance records. Gasser previously supported township consolidation when he served on the McHenry County Board.”
It’s almost as if McSweeney put sand in his own crankcase hoping that the insurance company would fall for it and give him a new car.
If you want to see a practical demonstration of the mood of McHenry County voters on the issue, you need look no further than the referendum that was on the ballot in the most recent election in which the voters of McHenry Township were asked if they wanted to eliminate the township road district and fold its functions into the township board. The measure failed 69%-31%.
There are legitimate concerns about the operations of county road districts, but those concerns should be addressed with a scalpel and not a meat-axe. Also, I’m not against consolidation per se, in fact I’ve written about it before, but if it’s going to be sold as a silver bullet for property tax reduction, all I ask is that the proponents show me the money.
Prove your case. H.B. 4637 is a bum’s rush to consolidate without having to do that.