SPRINGFIELD — A bill that would consolidate Illinois township roads and bridges is headed for approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The bill has already been approved in the House and Senate.
Passage of the bill would allow township trustees to initiate referendums to consolidate township road districts in counties across the state. Out of the over 8,500 local governments, there are nearly 1,400 township road and bridge districts. These are legally separate from the 1,430 general townships in Illinois.
In Ogle County, each of the 24 townships has an elected road commissioner that is responsible for the roads and bridges in their township. If this bill is passed, each of the township boards would have the option to present a referendum whether or not they want to eliminate their particular road district.
The referendum would then be placed on a ballot for voters in the township district. If voters approved the referendum, the list of responsibilities ranging from administrative duties to personnel and public relations, on top of the maintenance and construction, could be shifted to the township board of trustees.
Ogle County Highway engineer Jeremy Ciesiel explained a summary the Illinois Department of Transportation sent listing all of the duties currently handled by the road commissioner that the township board of trustees would assume. The administrative leg alone listed 15 items.
“If the legislation passes, a township board of trustees passes a resolution to put the abolishment of the road district on the ballot and the public votes in favor at the general or consolidated election, the township board of trustees would assume [the list of responsibilities],” Ciesiel said. “The responsibilities will not go away as a result of passage. These are often day-to-day responsibilities, many of which would be difficult to manage through monthly meetings.”
Ciesiel also added the township, through contracts, would need to arrange these. And in order for services to be performed, the township would need to impose levies.
Lt. Gov. weighs in
Ill. Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti last week applauded the passage of the bill that would allow township trustees to initiate these referendums, which could lead to a consolidation. Currently only township trustees in Cook County have this power. Two Cook County townships have successfully initiated and passed referendums to consolidate their road districts. It is said officials from both of these townships anticipate greater service efficiencies, thus taxpayer savings from consolidation.
“I applaud the General Assembly for passing this bill to give all townships - not just those in Cook County - the authority to consolidate as they deem necessary,” said Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. “We pay the highest property taxes in the nation and, not coincidentally, we have more units of government than any other state. This bill is the start of a larger effort to give both citizens and local boards the power to consolidate government.”
Another supporter of the bill is State Representative Tom Demmer.
“I’m glad to support this bill which empowers voters to choose what’s best for their community,” said Rep. Demmer. “If consolidation makes sense for them, they can now choose to lower the cost of government and reduce their tax burden.”
Ciesiel said the situation may be different in urban areas. These townships could possibly contract with municipalities to perform the responsibilities, particularly maintenance of the roadways.
“Here in Ogle County the townships extend considerably outside municipal borders making it difficult for a municipality to effectively perform the necessary work,” Ciesiel said. “Furthermore, work on roads under municipal jurisdiction would likely take priority leaving the roadways under township jurisdiction underserved.”
Sponsors for HB0607 include Representatives Sam Yingling (D-62), Tom Demmer (R-90), Deb Conroy (D-46), David McSweeney (R-52), Kathleen Willis (D-77), Grant Wehrli (R-41), Martin Moylan (D-55), Allen Skillicorn (R-66), David Welter (R-75), Carol Sente (D-59), and Thomas Morrison (R-54).
Senate Sponsors are Senators Julie A. Morrison (D-29), Karen McConnaughay (R-33), Laura M. Murphy (D-28), Tom Rooney (R-27), and Dan McConchie (R-26).