Illinois has 7,000 units of government, more than any other state in the nation.
Property taxes are the chief source of local governments’ funding, and getting rid of unnecessary and duplicative layers of local government is a good way to save taxpayer dollars.
Townships, in particular, are one layer of government ripe for reduction, as they often cost taxpayers money without providing unique services.
Illinois has 1,431 townships. Some of these townships are coterminous, which means their jurisdictions have the same boundaries as a municipality. Some areas have multiple townships within a municipality, while other townships exist in rural areas. Seventeen of Illinois’ counties have no township.
Illinois law allows townships to have three functions:
- Maintaining unincorporated roads and bridges
- Assessing property taxes
- Running the General Assistance program, which provides financial aid to the poor
In addition, some townships also administer other services, such as youth and senior citizen services, though they are not mandated by law to do so.
Each one of these 1,431 townships adds another layer of government for taxpayers to fund. Yet, some people don’t even know they live under a township due to the lack of transparency. Take Lincoln, Ill. for example: This town of about 14,000 people has two townships, East Lincoln and West Lincoln, yet neither township has a webpage where residents can go to receive information, making it unnecessarily difficult for people to see which township provides which services and whether those services overlap. This also makes it more difficult for residents to access financial documents and to track what their government is doing with their tax dollars.
The county or municipality can take over the few services townships provide. Such is the case in Belleville, where the City Council voted to dissolve its township. Bellville residents will be saving an estimated $260,000 per year by consolidating the functions of the township with the city.
Recent local government dissolutions
Efforts to reduce the burden of local government have recently advanced. The Illinois Constitution currently allows for any county to dissolve all of the townships within its boundaries. However, this dissolution provision is all or nothing: A county can dissolve all of its townships or none of its townships. It cannot dissolve just a few.
A county or municipality seeking to dissolve just one township must obtain special authority from the General Assembly. A law was created in 2013 specifically allowing Evanston Township to be dissolved. That same year, a different law also was created allowing the DuPage County Board to dissolve or consolidate various units of government.
In 2016, a law was passed allowing McHenry County and Lake County to dissolve units of government within their boarders, similar to DuPage County. This was also the year Belleville was given legislative authority to dissolve its township. There are other municipalities taking the issue to voters to decide if they want to eliminate their township, such as Peru, Ill. While these votes give local officials a sense of their constituents’ preferences, those government bodies must still seek permission from the General Assembly to act on any dissolution referendums.
Though these are steps in the right direction, taxpayers should have greater ability to dissolve any township from which they no longer gain value. The General Assembly should give all counties and municipalities the authority and flexibility to dissolve their townships and other unnecessary units of government as they see fit.