Could new referendum change road merger plan in Naperville, Lisle townships?

  • The future of the Naperville Township Road District again will be in voters' hands April 2, as the township is moving forward with a binding referendum asking whether to dissolve the district and have its responsibilities assumed by township government.

      The future of the Naperville Township Road District again will be in voters' hands April 2, as the township is moving forward with a binding referendum asking whether to dissolve the district and have its responsibilities assumed by township government. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2016

 
 
Posted1/21/2019 5:35 AM

For the second local election in a row, Naperville Township voters will face a binding referendum about management of a small unit of government that maintains about 15 miles of roads -- the Naperville Township Road District.

In 2017, the question asked if voters wanted to merge the road district with the Lisle Township Road District to form one agency, effective May 2021. Voters said "yes."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This time, Naperville Township officials say, the question on the April 2 ballot could supersede that approval.

The new question asks if voters want to follow a state law allowing townships to dissolve their road districts, eliminate the position of highway commissioner, and absorb the responsibilities into the rest of township government.

The problem is Naperville Township officials don't know with certainty that the new idea of absorbing the road district into Naperville Township legally can replace the previously approved -- and now required -- merger.

"It's still somewhat unclear," said Eddie Bedford, Naperville Township supervisor. "This really has not happened before."

Here's what Bedford thinks could take place:

If voters approve the idea of absorbing the road district into the rest of township government, it would mean there no longer is a Naperville Township Road District. If that's the case, it would be impossible to merge a governmental entity that no longer exists with the Lisle Township Road District, as required by the 2017 vote.

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And if the Naperville Township Road District no longer exists, "there's no one to basically cause litigation against," Bedford said -- or no entity to sue to try to change the result.

Lisle Township Highway Commissioner Ed Young said he was disappointed to hear about the new ballot question and doubts there's any case law to back up Naperville Township leaders.

Young said the April 2 ballot question leaves out Lisle Township voters, who now have every reason to believe their township streets will be managed beginning in May 2021 by a combined agency that could find cost savings through efficiencies.

"If one township takes an action that would void what both townships agreed to," Young said, "it would seem to me you're disenfranchising Lisle Township."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In 2017, roughly 55 percent of voters in the two townships supported merging the road districts.

Voters were told the plan would save $800,000 to $1.4 million a year and that taxes would decrease about $24 a year for Lisle Township residents and increase about $3 a year for Naperville Township residents.

Since then, the Naperville Township officials who pushed for a merger were ousted and the Democrats who took their place have been hesitant. Young said Bedford and Naperville Township Highway Commissioner Richard Novinger met once with him and Lisle Township Supervisor Mary Jo Mullen last fall to discuss the merger, but otherwise they have taken few real steps toward joining the two organizations.

"We still don't know what the consolidation would look like because there's so, so many variables," Bedford said.

Concerns on both sides include the makeup of the board that would govern the combined road district. By law, it is required to include only the supervisor and clerk from each affected township, Novinger said. But that creates a four-person board that would be unable to break a tie.

"I think Lisle is better off by themselves," Novinger said, "and I think Naperville is better off by ourselves."

Bedford said Naperville Township created a working group to study the consolidation and determine if it truly is in the best financial interests of taxpayers. In short, he said, the group determined it is not.

According to 2017 tax levy figures as analyzed by Naperville Township, the owner of a $400,000 house in Lisle Township paid $89.19 to the road district, while the owner of a house of the same value in Naperville Township paid $45.73 in road district taxes.

If the two levies were to be added and averaged without cutting or changing anything, the owner of a $400,000 house in the merged district would owe $68.80. That would be a $20.39 decrease for Lisle Township residents and a $23.07 increase for those in Naperville Township.

That's what made Bedford support the idea of asking voters to change course.

Although it would eliminate his position, Novinger also supports the absorption of the road district into Naperville Township.

He said he knows his next steps will be defined by voters -- although it's uncertain whether by those in the 2017 election or 2019.

Naperville Township plans three information sessions about the referendum, all from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St. The sessions are set for Wednesday, Jan. 30, Wednesday, Feb. 20, and Monday, March 11.

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