Illinois has the highest property taxes in the nation. And it’s no wonder:
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.
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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
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.
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