Illinois Sen. Jeff Schoenberg introduces bill to clarify township dissolution

Susan Du

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) introduced a bill Wednesday that would clarify how Evanston could dissolve its township.

The township of Evanston shares boundaries with the city, but its responsibilities are far less extensive. Some Evanston aldermen – who also serve as township trustees – have argued abolishing the township would potentially cut costs and make local bureaucracy more efficient.

But previously, the process of township dissolution was unclear, and city officials did not know for sure if it was even legal without county or state consent.

In June, trustees requested city attorney Grant Farrar determine if the township could be legally dissolved.

Ald. Don Wilson (4th), who acts as a township trustee, said direction was sought from Illinois lawmakers on how the procedure could occur.

“The dissolution is governed by state law, and I don’t know if the state law was particularly clear on what the procedure would be,” Wilson said. “The township will be dissolved if the voters choose to dissolve it. If it does pass and the voters indicate they do want the township to be dissolved, we’ll have that clear direction as to what the procedure is.”

The bill, SB2847, states, “If the office of Township Assessor in Evanston ceases … then the City of Evanston shall assume the duties of the Township Assessor.”

In an October meeting, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) said eliminating the township would generate at least $500,000 in savings.

Currently, the township handles the city’s general assistance program, which distributes benefits to adults without children. In the October meeting, Evanston Township assessor Bonnie Wilson also cited the township’s role in helping residents apply for exemption benefits and make tax appeals.

“My staff and I are very honored to help Evanston taxpayers and be their advocate,” Wilson said in the meeting.

If passed, the bill will allow the city to conduct a binding referendum on discontinuing the township. That binding referendum would read, “Shall the township organization be continued in Evanston Township?”

If a majority of Evanston residents vote to dissolve the township, the township would be abolished at the start of the year following the referendum.

The Illinois General Assembly will review the bill at the same time that Evanston residents will vote on a preliminary advisory referendum on the March 20 general election ballot. That non-binding referendum will survey Evanston voters on whether the Evanston Township board should pursue township dissolution if the state bill does pass.

However, even if Evanston residents vote to preserve the township in the advisory referendum, SB2847 will still be voted upon by the state legislature and cement the process of township dissolution if Evanston chooses to revisit the issue.

Wilson said he does not know how voters will respond to the upcoming advisory referendum but maintained his main goal is to improve government efficiency.

“We’re trying to manage the government as efficiently as possible with the most cost savings to the tax payers,” he said. “Whatever that looks like, that’s what I’m interested in doing.”

Still, opponents of township dissolution remain concerned over how the city will continue to provide general assistance in the township’s stead.

The last township-dissolving action in Illinois occurred in Williamson County in 1932.

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