Voters to decide whether to dissolve McHenry Twp. this year, Nunda Twp. in 2037

In response to recent state legislation seeking to consolidate local government in McHenry County, voters will decide this spring whether Nunda and McHenry townships should be abolished.

If a binding referendum question is approved in McHenry Township on March 17, the road district, assessor's office and other functions would be dissolved June 21 and its assets and obligations transferred to the county.

In Nunda, the change wouldn't take effect until May 18, 2037. That would give township and county officials four full terms to develop an adequate transition plan, Supervisor Lee Jennings says.

The decision by Nunda Township trustees to set the date 17 years in the future has been criticized by residents in favor of eliminating townships as soon as possible, he said. But others, particularly those living in unincorporated areas, would prefer to maintain the township's services indefinitely.

"So what's a right time frame?" Jennings said. "Seventeen years may not be it, but it certainly gets us out into a time frame where if it's going to happen, it can happen in the proper manner."

Signed into law last August, House Bill 348 uses McHenry County as a test case for consolidation by giving voters the power to more easily dissolve their townships. Taxpayers can file a petition to get a referendum question on the ballot, or a township board can make such a proposal.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the legislation explores options for providing communities with property tax relief. McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks suggested his county act as a "laboratory" to see how the concept works before expanding it statewide.

The Nunda and McHenry township road districts filed a lawsuit last year challenging the law's constitutionality.

But to some McHenry Township trustees who ran for office on the platform of eliminating township government, the new state law appeared to be a step in the right direction. The board discussed placing a question on the general election ballot in November, giving officials time to develop a plan and build a campaign, Trustee Bob Anderson said.

A group of residents hoping to save the township beat the board to the punch. They submitted a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to put the question up for a vote in March, when they believe it will have a better chance of failing, said John Macrito, chairman of the Friends of McHenry Township steering committee.

The group has held informational sessions and plans to continue educating voters on the importance of township services, he said.

If it fails, the same proposition could not be brought up again for another 23 months, according to the legislation.

Anderson said momentum is building among those who support abolishing the township to "reduce the size and cost of government." The township is spending roughly $40,000 to complete a cost-benefit analysis ahead of the election, he said.

McHenry County would be obligated to take over the statutory responsibilities of any township that dissolves, which include property assessments and road maintenance in its jurisdiction, county Administrator Peter Austin said.

But most townships offer programs and services that may not fall under the county's purview, he said. McHenry Township, for example, runs a sled hill, athletic fields, a food pantry and a senior bus program.

"I think there's an argument to be made that people who vote to dissolve the township are probably voting to dissolve those services," Austin said, noting the county board will need to decide which programs to maintain. "I'm confident in our county staff and our capacity to handle (township) services, but it might look a little different than it has in the past."

Should McHenry Township's referendum question pass, the county board will hold meeting March 20 to address those policy issues, he said.

Though originally in favor of such a consolidation, McHenry Township Trustee Stan Wojewski said he now believes residents are "getting a good bang for our buck out of the township."

Nunda Township officials also question the cost-effectiveness of transferring the agency's services to the county, Jennings said. That's why they wanted a 17-year buffer to work through the logistics if voters ultimately support the concept.

"Everybody has their own opinion on it," he said. "Let's give them a chance to voice that opinion without it being shortsighted."

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