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To declutter Illinois and save dollars, eliminate townships

The Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield.

How many units of government do you think there are in Illinois? Two thousand? Five thousand? Try 6,963. That’s more than any other state. Illinois has housing authorities, museum districts, mosquito abatement districts, drainage districts … even cemetery districts: 26 of them.

Oh yes, and townships. Illinois has 1,428 townships. Townships’ raison d’etre boils down to three functions: tasks associated with property assessment, the maintenance of roads that aren’t covered by other levels of government and financial aid for the poor via efforts such as food banks. All three functions are important. All three can be handled by municipal and/or county governments.


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A state lawmaker whose district includes McHenry County has taken aim at townships. State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, pushed legislation that would allow McHenry County voters to decide through a referendum whether to get rid of their township governments. The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly and now awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.

Ideally, Illinois would go on a Marie Kondo-style tidying frenzy and eliminate all government units that no longer “spark joy,” but McSweeney’s effort would represent a good start. The legislation leaves the fate of townships up to voters. They can decide whether the salaries of township road commissioners, assessors and employees are worth their hard-earned tax dollars. If asphalt in Algonquin Township can be paved by McHenry County road workers just as efficiently as township workers, where’s the need for township road crews and steamrollers?


Perhaps McSweeney’s bill will inspire lawmakers and voters elsewhere in the Chicago area and the rest of Illinois to consider jettisoning townships. There was a time in America’s history — pre-Revolutionary days, to be exact — when townships were useful government way stations for people who otherwise would have long journeys by horse to get to their county seats. Today, most states operate perfectly fine without township governments and the pensions their workers enjoy.

In southern Illinois, 17 counties function smoothly without townships. Evanston voters got rid of Evanston Township in 2014 and had their city government assume township functions. That saved taxpayers nearly $800,000 the following year. Downstate Belleville has done away with its township government, and in 2017 voters in Cook County’s northwest suburban Hanover Township eliminated the township’s road district and highway commissioner.

There are many more township bureaucracies that could be eliminated. Why allow an obsolete layer of government to continue sapping taxpayer dollars? There’s already far too much waste at the city, county and state levels. Any governmental body that can’t justify its existence should be gone.

Gov. Pritzker, please spark some joy by signing this bill.