Bills would give voters say over township, road district consolidation
Two state Senate bills from Lake County legislators are among the latest suggestions in the continuing debate on consolidating government services to save money.
The main element in the proposals by Democratic state Sens. Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Julie Morrison of Deerfield to consolidate or dissolve townships and road districts would allow entities the choice to pursue that route and give voters the final say. The bills are scheduled to be considered by the senate this week.
"We're not telling you what to do," Bush told about 40 township supervisors, highway commissioners and others during a news conference Monday at the Lake County division of transportation building in Libertyville. "It gives you and your voters the ability to decide what makes sense for you."
There are 1,430 townships in Illinois and thousands of other units of local government, such as drainage and mosquito abatement districts, that in recent years have become the topics of potential consolidation or elimination. Township consolidation is among dozens of suggestions to shrink government outlined by the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates task force led by Republican Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti.
While Lake County township officials said they are open to the suggestion of streamlining services, several questions, such as how tax rates would be set, remain unanswered.
"You don't want a merger to cost taxpayers money," Fremont Township Supervisor and former Lake County Board member Diana O'Kelly said after the session. "I have no issue with consolidation. The devil is in the details, not the big picture," when considering legislation.
Bush said about 20 bills concerning government consolidation have been filed in the legislature.
"The thing that scares me right now is all of the `I don't knows,'" added Cheri Neal, Zion Township supervisor and head of the Lake County township officials group.
Bush's bill would allow a township to merge with one or more adjacent townships after the township boards pass a resolution to pursue that action and voters approve it at referendum. The law also would allow counties to eliminate townships countywide by the same process and retain their current county board form of government, rather than changing to a commission form of government as required by current law.
Morrison's bill would allow township road districts of less than 15 miles of road to be dissolved, with the township assuming the duties and taxing authority. Again, voters would have final say via referendum. That proposal also would allow county boards to create townships of more than 126 square miles, which is currently prohibited.
Both said consolidation doesn't automatically equate to savings.
"There's also an economy of scale. It may work for you, it may not," said Morrison, a former township supervisor. "This is permissive legislation."
The pair was joined by Democratic Sen. Terry Link of Vernon Hills and Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Republican who has been an advocate of consolidation.
"This is not picking on any particular person or organization. This is saying Illinois has over 7,000 units of local government. Period," Link said. "We do not want to diminish service to the general public in any form whatsoever."
Lawlor said consolidation has become a buzz word, but it doesn't necessarily equate to cost savings. Determining how to provide efficient and effective services is painstaking work.
"It's not going to be done in six months," he said. "Let's start a conversation and see if there are opportunities there."
Bush said discussions at the local level will continue.