It seems that recently, with the nationwide awareness of bloated government and its effect on our economy and the fiscal health of the nation, there is a call for more limited government that is gaining appreciable momentum.
Even our own State Senator Terry Link is trying to get out in front of this issue. However, those who are intimately involved in many of these local governments take a different view, and proclaim that local control and needed services justify having so many units of government. We have been critical of some units of local government before, particularly townships, so we thought we would give some equal time today to the other side of the argument, and give Dan Venturi, Lake Villa Township Supervisor, a chance to have his say:
Townships Serve an Important Role
The role of township government is often misunderstood and some of our legislators in Springfield and even the Township Supervisor in Avon Township are calling for the dismantling of township government. Townships provide many important functions that very economically improve the quality of life in our community.
The supporters of dismantling township government fail to focus on whether the elimination of township government will save the taxpayers’ money. The bill being considered in Springfield does not mention reducing taxes or eliminating the respective real estate tax levy if a township or other government entity is eliminated. The proposed bill does require they consider the “costs and benefits to the State and other units of local government.” It is important to note that township government is funded with local tax dollars and not funded by the State. Eliminating township government alone does not help the current state budget crisis. The plan is not to reduce your taxes but to liquidate townships and then divert township funds to pay the states bills.
The role of township government is different depending on the demands and needs of the community. Some townships only have a few miles of road and therefore do not need a highway department. Some areas have fewer parcels of land and have one assessor for several townships.
I have been the Lake Villa Township Supervisor for the past ten years. In our township the highway department rebuilds and maintains over 50 miles of roads. Our assessor performs assessment valuations on over 17,000 parcels of land. As Township Supervisor I oversee the other township functions which can generally be broken down into three categories; assistance programs, senior services and public facilities.
Our Township operates a full-time food pantry, administers general assistance to help sustain people in need who are not otherwise eligible for federal or state assistance programs, and we administer the emergency assistance program to help people in emergency situations with evictions and utility disconnections. We also work with our residents to coordinate other charitable and governmental programs that may help them in their time of need.
Our next area is senior services. We run a shared destination based township transit system with two other townships. We drive to popular destinations on a set schedule. I share the driving responsibility with a part time bus driver. The annual cost in each of the three townships has been less than $3,000. By establishing common destinations (the most popular destination being Super Wal-Mart) we generally have a full bus instead of a bus with one or two passengers.
We also have regular senior activities that are staffed with local public servants from our township, the mayors and trustees from our villages, county board members and even our state senators and representatives. The help from all our local volunteers keep costs down and make the events very popular with regular attendance between 150 to 200 seniors.
Another area of focus is to provide public facilities for our community residents to use. We have over 90 acres of active recreational land including parks, community rooms, picnic shelters and sports fields that are used by our community and the thousands of children that participate in youth football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse and iceless hockey. By partnering with community volunteer organizations we are able to provide quality sports programs for our children at an extremely reasonable cost. It is not clear who would take over our facilities if the township was eliminated. The Lake County Forest Preserve generally does not provide sports fields or operate youth sports programs and park districts generally do not coordinate with volunteer groups. I do not believe that either would do a better job running youth sports programs or save the taxpayers’ money.
We provide many other services alone and in partnership with local villages, school districts, Lake County, and many local volunteer groups. Like most townships we are among the smallest part of the tax bill. We live within our budget. We do not spend money we do not have. Our pension obligations are fully funded. This is in contrast to our state government which has over 6 BILLION dollars of unpaid bills and has north of 80 BILLION in unfunded pension liabilities. As for the Avon Township Supervisor who cannot find any needs in his community, and endorses the dismantling of township government, he should look at the surrounding townships to see what services townships can and should offer.
No one has made a credible argument that dismantling townships government will save any taxpayer money. Without our township assistance programs the need will still be there and the people in need would likely be moved to a larger, less responsive and more costly bureaucracy. Giving control of our transportation program to a bureaucracy like PACE, would not result in taxpayer savings or better service. It is not clear who would take over our township facilities if the township was eliminated.
The assessment of our 17,000 parcels of property will not become any easier or cheaper and a larger centralized bureaucracy will not provide better customer service to the individual resident. It is also not reasonable to think the state will do a better or more economical job of rebuilding or maintaining our local roads.
You only have to look back a few weeks to the Blizzard of 2011 to remember which roads were plowed first (the local roads) and which roads were plowed last (the state roads). Having a larger centralized bureaucracy taking over township functions will not make services better or cheaper. The next time you have a problem with your road call the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and see how long it takes to get someone that will even pretend to care, let alone fix the problem.
Lake Villa Township Supervisor