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HomeIllinois NewsMathieson: McHenry Co. Says No to Township Consolidation: Lessons Learned

Mathieson: McHenry Co. Says No to Township Consolidation: Lessons Learned

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By Nancy Mathieson - 

80 percent of McHenry County residents polled this past summer supported an initiative to include a township consolidation referendum question on the March 2016 ballot. Nevertheless, at an October meeting only one month after the poll results, the County Board voted NO.

The taxpayer-driven initiative went down in flames following a hard-fought battle which began in early 2015 with the formation of the five-member McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation. According to Nunda Township Trustee and task force member Mike Shorten, when faced with four separate public meetings filled with township elected officials, “their voices outshouted ours.”

The task force had two goals: create a resolution for the County Board to vote on, and present a proposed consolidation map. At the time of the Board vote, the task force recommended only two referendums: one to merge Richmond and Burton townships in the county’s northeast corner, and to merge Chemung and Dunham townships in the county’s northwest corner. The task force reached no consensus on the remaining six consolidations, which still made it to the October County Board agenda. The Board ultimately voted to reject all eight township consolidation referendums.

Telephone polling of 1,100 McHenry County registered voters showed overwhelming support for township consolidation referendums. Why was it shot down so easily at the County level?

Two factors stood out. At one public meeting in the fall, County Board members discussed the potential impact on taxpayers in the consolidating township with a lower tax levy. Levies of two townships would assumedly be added together and then divided between their total assessed value, with the lower tax township possibly seeing a tax increase. On that one issue, County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller of Crystal Lake argued, “We are standing here today looking at something that positively will raise taxes for half our residents.”

By using this tax rate example, was the County Board going out of their way to torpedo township consolidation referendums? That might be a “cynical assumption,” according to Mike Shorten. He says if the referendums had made it to the March ballot and one or more had passed, the affected officials in the consolidated townships would have had a year to review operations and find cost savings before decisions on any tax increases took place.

A second criticism was that while the task force determined a consolidation plan would result in an annual $4 million savings for the County, in reality they presented no detailed cost savings estimates to the Board. While Shorten says actual savings would have depended on the efforts of the new officials of each consolidating township, he acknowledges had resources been available, a cost study would have been helpful to support their arguments.

McHenry County is still debating whether consolidating townships will save taxpayers money or not. Perhaps because township government in McHenry spends only 3.2 cents out of each real estate tax dollar, it is easier for township employees to argue down the position that consolidating townships can actually save money. Some critics say cost savings are more easily found at the County or school district levels.

While the referendum is off the ballot for now, it is interesting to note that township Assessor consolidation is now being studied. Recent Legislative Committee minutes state “The County possibly supports an amendment to the Township Code to allow the County Board and/or the voters of a township to vote to consolidate the offices of the township assessors in the County with the County Assessor.” The benefits of Assessor consolidation could be improvement in the accuracy and uniformity of assessments, while reducing the size and costs of McHenry local government. Township Assessor consolidation is also currently under review by the Illinois Lt. Governor’s Consolidation Task Force.

Nancy Mathieson has a 30-year career in business, securities regulation and public policy.  Nancy held positions at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), where she was a Director of Market Surveillance and managed a professional staff in the investigation of securities trading violations. She also served as Operations Director at Truth in Accounting, a Chicago think-tank whose mission is to promote transparency in government financial reporting. In this role, she directed Accounting teams in grant-funded research studies on the financial condition of state and local municipalities. Nancy received her B.S. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her M.B.A. from New York University.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I believe the county’s chief assessor is a hiree or appointee, but township assessors are elected.
    If ANY township officer should continue to be elected, it is the assessor. This makes him directly responsible to the property-owning residents of the township.
    As far as the clerk, supervisor and road commissioner, those posts could all be incorporated into the county governmental organization with little change of service and a cost savings.

  2. Observer, hope your position on the clerk, supervisor
    and road commissioner is made of information you see
    happening in the collar counties, where county, city,
    and township all travel on the same roads to get their
    jobs done. There would be no cost savings out here in
    rural Illinois. Where one man with some part time help
    takes care of up to 57 miles. if that were to happen
    there would be people screaming about not being able to
    get to the coffee shop.