Zion-Benton News

State Senate bill allows for consolidation or dissolution of Illinois townships

By Mona Shannon
Zion-Benton News staff

Last week, the Illinois Senate, in an effort to create more efficiency in local government, passed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Melinda Bush that would allow for the consolidation of township government with the approval of local voters.

“We’ve heard calls for township consolidation for many years,” said Bush, D-Grayslake.
“It’s important that as we pursue that, we preserve local control. This measure is an important compromise and I urge my colleagues in the House and the governor to make it the law.”

Senate Bill 388 would, among other things:
allow a township to merge with one or more adjacent townships.

allow a township to be dissolved and absorbed by two townships with which it shares a boundary.

allow a township which shares the same geographical area with a municipality to be dissolved by resolution and its duties adopted by the municipality.

The bill also removes a barrier to the consolidation of townships by allowing counties that eliminate townships countywide via a petition and referendum process to retain their county board form of government, rather than transition to a commission form of government (as under current law).

Any dissolution or merging of townships would occur only after the township boards in question adopt a resolution calling for the question to be put before voters, and after a majority of voters approve a referendum to that effect at the next election.

Currently, the law doesn’t provide any method to merge or consolidate township government. Townships have only three statutory functions: Maintaining roads, assessing property and providing general assistance. There are 1,430 townships in Illinois, more than any other state.

The legislation is Senate Bill 388. It passed the Senate 53-0 and proceeds to the Illinois House for consideration.

Zion Township Supervisor Cheri Neal said she is in favor of discussions about consolidation but strongly believes those discussions must be based on facts. She proposes a third party study be done before such a question can come to a referendum.

“We need to make sure there are not unintended consequences,” she said. “The legislation makes it possible if a community wants to do this but we need a third party assessment to determine if it will save money and how it will impact services.”

She said she is working with CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning), who is talking with Northern Illinois University and one other place to find out the cost of a third-party study.

Neal said she wants to know four things before a consolidation question goes on the ballot:

If the township goes away, who would provide these services?
What happens if Benton and Zion Townships merge?
What happens if the Zion Township services go under the city?
What happens if everything stays the same?

“We need somebody on the outside who is not biased to do an analysis and then let the people vote,” said Neal.