Editorial: How to save township government

  • Suburban voters earlier this month decided to abolish the road district in Naperville Township.

      Suburban voters earlier this month decided to abolish the road district in Naperville Township. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
Daily Herald Editorial Board

Over the years, we've seen the worst of townships, as when the separately elected township supervisors or assessors or road commissioners or clerks or boards do battle, duplicating costs and getting less work done for the public.

Recall, for example, the assessor in Antioch Township in Lake County moving her staff out of the township building and renting new offices after fighting with the supervisor. Or Algonquin Township in McHenry County almost running out of road salt after highway commissioner Andrew Gasser ordered a supply and the township board refused to pay for it.

We've also seen the best of townships, as when well-run food pantries or senior transit or general assistance programs provide safety nets for suburban residents who've run out of options.

With that in mind, we're not fully in the growing "throw them out" camp that seeks to abolish townships as rural throwbacks not needed in the suburbs.

But we do see a vast need for streamlining, simplifying, avoiding "mission creep" and saving taxpayers money. So do some lawmakers. And frankly, many more township officials wishing to preserve this form of government need to get on board with reforms -- a big ask since townships often are patronage havens for partisan politicians reluctant to surrender control of jobs and influence.

One bill by state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills would dissolve township road districts in Lake and McHenry counties that control less than 15 miles of roads, an obvious necessity. Towns or counties would take over maintenance and plowing.

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The bill would allow referendums to dissolve townships in McHenry County, giving voters a chance to decide what they value.

We support McSweeney's effort, which is identical to a measure he passed in the previous legislature but was vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But why stop there? Along with expanding McSweeney's measures to the other collar counties, it's time to do away with separately elected officials. Instead, put all township staff on one team by electing one person to oversee hired managers. When Wheeling Township put roads in the hands of an employee rather than an elected commissioner it cut taxes for roads by 12 percent.

Redundancies in township government are easy to spot. Why do Cook County townships need assessors, since property assessments are done by the county?

It's evident township government in the suburbs needs to change, and that sentiment is growing.

Defenders of the status quo should consider whether to get on board with streamlined, open township government if the alternative might be no township government at all.

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