Bill to allow for dissolution of certain Illinois townships

Billy Kobin, Reporter

Illinois residents would be able to vote on local government consolidation and township dissolution under a bill passed in the Illinois House of Representatives last month.

State representatives voted March 29 overwhelmingly in favor of passing the bill, which would allow residents of the state’s 19 townships that are coterminous with — or located within the borders of — municipalities to put township dissolution referendums on local ballots.

The bill seeks to address the abundance of local government bodies in Illinois, which contribute to higher property taxes across the state, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a public policy think tank. Illinois has the most units of local government in the country, with nearly 7,000 units of local government, roughly 1,400 of which are townships, according to the institute.

For a township dissolution referendum to make it on the ballot, local city councils would have to pass an ordinance or 10 percent of local voters would have to sign a petition, according to the legislation, which was introduced by state Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and co-sponsored by state Reps. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Laura Fine (D-Glenview). If voters approve the dissolution, the local municipality would take over the relevant services and duties, according to the bill.

Evanston, for example, had its own coterminous township until roughly three years ago. In 2013, state lawmakers amended the Illinois Township Code to allow for the dissolution of Evanston Township. The township provided emergency services, property tax assessments and general assistance to qualifying Evanston residents.

In 2014, Evanston residents voted by a nearly two-to-one margin to abolish the township, which marked the first time since 1932 that Illinois voters had dissolved a township. City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said there was a “smooth transition” when the city took over the township’s former responsibilities.

“We’re serving those residents on general assistance better today than comparable services provided by the township,” Bobkiewicz said. “We’re saving money in the process.”

According to an official analysis of the township dissolution, Evanston taxpayers saved $779,668 in 2015, exceeding an estimated $500,000.

Demmer said his idea for the bill stemmed from a state commission he sat on that looked at government consolidation.

“Right now, there is no ability for those other coterminous townships to dissolve unless they come down here (to Springfield) and ask for their special right to do it,” he said. “We allowed Evanston to do it. It makes sense to give others the option to choose if they want to (dissolve) or not.”

Fine said the choice to dissolve townships could be useful if services overlap with those offered by the municipality. At the same time, the bill would give voters who want to keep their townships the option to do so.

“This isn’t saying that township government is not important, because in some places it is very important, and it is a lifeline in many communities,” Fine said.

The bill, which passed the House 111 to 2, will face a vote in the state Senate. Demmer said he hoped leaders would act on the bill by the end of May, despite a flurry of activity in the two state chambers.

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