Algonquin Township has seen its share of controversy over the last year, mostly centering on the highway department and a lawsuit over the records of expenditures from its previous commissioner.
Legal firms have assessed the township more than $450,000 for representation of the individuals named in the civil action, and questions raised over a new security system for department and township offices purchased for nearly $270,000.
Now comes the passage of House Bill 4637, sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney (R-52nd), simplifying the process for the dissolution of township governments. Two Algonquin Township trustees, Melissa Victor and David Chapman, believe the legislation is aimed squarely at their township because of an April 25 conversation with McSweeney in Springfield. Trustee Rachel Lawrence also went downstate.
“I really have no comment about this,” said Chuck A. Lutzow Jr., the Algonquin Township supervisor. “At this time, I’m just trying to run the township.”
House Bill 4637 amends the Local Land Resource Planning Management Act in providing that “the board of trustees of any township located in McHenry County may submit a proposition to dissolve the township to the township electors, or township electors may petition a referendum, to dissolve a township.”
It also outlines the petition and ballot requirements for the dissolution, as well as mechanisms for the transfer of property and contractual obligations of the dissolving township. The bill was given its third reading on the House floor April 17, and after a short debate, was passed. Rep. Sam Yingling (D-62nd), also a co-sponsor, introduced a motion to reconsider the vote, which he later withdrew.
The senate received the bill, and it was placed on the calendar order for an April 18 first reading. Sen. Terry Link (D-30th), is the chief senate sponsor, and after its introduction, the bill was referred to the senate assignments committee.
“I have no doubt that it will pass through the senate … it’s a solid bill, and addresses the issue of saving taxpayer money to provide quality services,” said McSweeney, by phone.
The legislation also took precedence at the 37th annual Township Topics Day event, through the Township Officials of Illinois, to meet legislators in Springfield and discuss emerging issues.
“What a great trip that was, giving us a chance … talk one on one about items or even just to chat to get to know them for the future, so they can use us as a resource when there are questions about townships,” said Chapman, in an email.
“(It) fixes the ignorance some state legislators have as to the important services that townships provide. David (McSweeney) has never written us, called us, emailed us, or attended a meeting to discuss this,” he said. “The truth is taxes will rise … we believe he just has no idea about what we do for our residents. Why won’t (he) support the legislation requiring a study be done on the effect of dissolving a township?”
Since 2014, the issue of consolidation and/or dissolution of smaller government entities has gained attention on the premises that it is a duplication of services and becomes an unnecessary taxing arm, especially in McHenry County. At the state level, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order to convene a special task force to review options on the more than 7,000 units of government in the state, and unfunded mandates.
Several years ago, the county board convened a task force to recommend consolidation plans for the 18 county townships, following a petition drive by a volunteer group. After deliberation, they were unable to forward usable data, due to the disparity in tax levy assessments in different townships. The county board later turned down a proposal to allow affected township residents to vote out their township government.
The newly proposed legislation is intended to streamline the process, although Chapman said McSweeney’s position belied a “personal vendetta” and was expressed in a conversation with Victor that he (McSweeney) was starting with Algonquin Township, “and then, we will get rid of the rest.”
Victor concurred in an email reply, saying, “When I had my conversation … I asked why he was starting with McHenry County? His reply was (it) was to set precedents since we are a bigger township, and once we are eliminated, he will continue to fight to eliminate all townships in the state of Illinois. My reply was that I will fight for townships.
“His reply was ‘it’s already been passed in the House, I will win.’ He pointed his finger at me, and said this, as he walked away from me to head into session.”
McSweeney maintained his recollection of the conversation was not the same, and termed it a “rock-throwing” episode.
“That is not what was said, her statement is not accurate. I said that this bill targets McHenry County, and not any specific township within it. McHenry County has some of the highest property taxes in the state, and the country. This bill is starting here to make an example out of the county, and provide a template for the rest of the state to follow.”
Chapman added, “What we do for our residents … if he did know, he would be cheering our efforts at improving our roads, our services, senior citizens support, community collaboration, and transparency at meetings … things have been corrected by our supervisor … all with a strict eye on our expenditures and level of service.”
Victor said, “I sincerely fear our taxes will increase and there will be many wonderful programs that will be cut, if townships are eliminated.”
—Trustees say dissolution bill targets Algonquin Township–