Editorial: Board is right on one point: Expand consolidation opportunities statewide

The McHenry County Board appears poised to approve today a measure seeking to void or modify a state law making McHenry alone among Illinois' 102 counties where voters can easily choose to eliminate township governments.

It can be complicated to discern the ultimate motives of county board members favoring repeal of the 2019 law, but one thing is certainly true. They are at least half right.

Their chief complaint is that the law singles out their county and fails to provide guidance on what they should do with the money and personnel if voters should decide to dissolve a township operation. But the resolution set for discussion today, according to Shaw Media, doesn't limit its sights to repeal of the law. It also offers the option of applying the law to every county in the state.

"The Board requests that future legislation be enacted statewide to ensure that all voters are given the same opportunities and all counties are able to collaborate to deliver the best services to their residents," the resolution states.

On that point, we agree enthusiastically, though we would add "efficiently" to the issue of delivery since that, after all, is a key term for taxpayers.

After years of calling for opportunities to consolidate and reduce the nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois, we were pleased when Republican former state Rep. David McSweeney's legislation passed, our only disappointment being the limitations of its scope to a single county.

McSweeney expressed the hope that the law would be expanded if it worked well in McHenry County, and Gov. JB Pritzker himself expressed interest in "seeing how this bill works for the taxpayers."

No criteria were established to measure success or failure of the McHenry "experiment," but there's certainly nothing in the experience of the past two years to suggest a problem. Three proposals have been put before voters, and all three were rejected. Critics may rightfully complain that the votes were suspiciously scheduled on low-turnout primary election days, making them harder to pass, but there's no getting around the fact that voters at least had the opportunity to make a statement.

The votes may not have resulted in savings for taxpayers, but they let voters affirm that they're willing to pay the costs of supporting their townships' work. The expanded democracy alone is one measure of the law's success.

So, we'll take McHenry County Board members who support the resolution at their word that they just want to "make sure our voice is heard with regard to lack of fairness" in the law. But we still see the 2019 consolidation bill as a thin ray of hope for long-suffering Illinoisans looking for ways to control local demands on their tax dollars. The state still has far to go - not just on township and other local-government units but also on the hundreds of distinct elementary and high school districts throughout the suburbs and the state - to help taxpayers ensure that spending on local services is efficient and acceptable.

Indeed, there is no indication even that the legislature will take up McHenry County's complaint, and the board's resolution, if it passes, may be little more than a futile expression of pique. If the issue does get traction, though, it's important to be clear: Eliminating the McHenry County experiment would be a setback for taxpayers and consolidation, but if the board's action leads to a fairer, better-defined approach statewide, that can only be seen as a solid step forward.

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