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updated: 4/10/2011 10:01 PM

Health-care perk proves townships need scrutiny

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Just last week we opined, in the wake of the low voter turnout for local elections, that Illinois just has too many units of government. That followed a guest column by a Lake County township official that the time for townships to go away was long past.

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And what better argument for that point of view than staff writer Jake Griffin's Sunday story detailing the free health care elected township officials enjoy at taxpayer expense.

Griffin's investigation of 50 suburban townships shows 29 of those townships offered health-care coverage at no charge to elected officers who held full-time positions like supervisor, assessor and highway commissioner.

Even more outlandish are the four townships that provide free coverage to part-time trustees whose main duty is to attend a dozen or so meetings. The cost for all this? More than $1 million for 77 elected leaders.

We couldn't agree more with McHenry Township Supervisor Donna Schaeffer, who told Griffin: "That's ridiculous. That's what gives township government a bad name."

Indeed it does. And it overshadows some of the needed social services that townships provide. Clearly, township officials need a lesson in priority spending. Their own health care shouldn't top the list.

And yet, in Naperville Township, employees were asked to pay a portion of their health-care costs just as the elected officials got it for free. If that makes you angry, how about this quote from a township trustee: "I thought this was a benefit all employees got."

Shouldn't he know that? And shouldn't he have tried to change the policies before residents learned of this perk and now are pushing for it to end via a referendum on the November ballot.

"I think it's a waste," said Kurt Dorr, who is spearheading the referendum effort that all Naperville Township residents can vote on at Tuesday's annual meeting. "I feel like it's a theft from taxpayers."

Those may be strong words, but the sentiment, especially in these tough economic times, resonates.

"For part-time positions in governments to be granted benefits merely because they have the authority raises the question of whether they're really in tune with the taxpayers," said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation.

Sure does. And how do township officials defend these policies? Let's go back to that Naperville Township trustee, Fred Spitzzeri.

"To a certain extent, these jobs are what you put into them. You can always criticize someone by line item, but in general, we've been very frugal and fiscally responsible."

Do you agree? If, like us, you don't, then it's time to start paying attention to townships or work to eliminate or change them.

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