Naperville ballots to question road deal, township consolidation
Months of talks about roads, taxes, townships, savings, service agreements and consolidation have led to two ballot questions for Naperville residents and one for Naperville Township residents.
The questions are advisory and nonbinding, meaning no immediate action will be triggered no matter the result.
But some say the questions could have political implications at the state level, serving as a mandate from Naperville-area voters on government consolidation and whether there needs to be a simpler, better defined process to allow it to happen.
At the heart of the questions is a proposal from the city to take over maintenance of 16 miles of roads now under the jurisdiction of the Naperville Township road district.
Whether the proposal will save money from what the road district would spend to maintain the streets itself has been debated since February.
But whether the proposal will save money is important because of the wording of the first question. Posed to residents of the city and of Naperville Township, it asks this:
"Should the city of Naperville and the Naperville Township road district enter into an agreement for combined roadway services as proposed by the Naperville City Council on June 7, 2016, in order to reduce the real estate tax burden on all Naperville Township taxpayers?"
Some say the question is leading, written so it presumes the offer from the city would save money for the township road district, which then would pass along the savings to property taxpayers by approving a lower levy.
Skeptics say that's a lot of assumptions, and a flaw at any step of the process -- a mistake in a cost estimate, an unusually snowy winter, a reluctance to pass a lower levy -- could derail the savings potential.
But others say the question is concrete, dealing with one specific agreement, offered on one specific day for specific prices as outlined. Those prices, they say, are lower than what the road district recently has been spending, so the savings are sure.
Despite the question posed to voters, the decision of who should maintain streets lies with one person alone: the person elected highway commissioner, who is in charge of the separate taxing body that is the Naperville Township road district.
For its part, the road district says it already has engaged in a form of consolidation and shared services by letting the Lisle Township road district take over its streets.
In August, the two bodies approved a 10½-month deal that lasts through June 30 and costs $275,000.
Township and city leaders say the deal never would have happened without their urging. That's why they want a community response about the second ballot question, which will ask about consolidation on the ballots of all voters in the incorporated city of Naperville, no matter in which of the six townships within the city they reside. The question asks this:
"Should a township government be abolished in the city of Naperville when efficiencies and savings in delivery of township services can be demonstrated by either the city of Naperville or another governmental body performing the same services?"
This is the broader question, the consolidation question, the query that's only theoretical. The entity asking the question -- the city of Naperville -- doesn't have the power to abolish a township government, even if it demonstrates savings in performing that township's duties.
But if voters say township government should be abolished if savings can be found, then city officials could use that public opinion as leverage. Leverage, they say, could help them encourage state lawmakers to create a path for local governments to consolidate, which would begin to do something about Illinois' notoriously long list of governmental bodies.
On the other hand, if voters say they want to retain townships, city leaders could decide to look elsewhere for local consolidation efforts.
A yes vote does not mean township governments immediately will be abolished within the city; and a no vote does not guarantee levels of government will remain the same. But those asking the question say the response -- either way -- sends a signal.