River Forest voters may soon have the chance to decide at the ballot box if River Forest Township government ought to be merged into the village government.
State Rep. Chris Welch (D.-7th) will introduce legislation this week in Springfield which – if passed – would allow such a vote in the name of reducing the number of government units and making government more efficient.
Village President Catherine Adduci supports the effort and has, in fact, been talking to Welch since last fall about ways to lower local property taxes. The initiative on township government came from those discussions.
Local township officials said they would make the case for retaining township government if the measure reached the ballot.
Consolidating both entities would mean that the village, after a transition period of undetermined length at this point, would administer all programs and services currently handled by the township and assume oversight of all township assets, including the Community Center. The role of the township elected officials also would end.
It is uncertain when or if the legislation – modeled after a bill allowing for the consolidation last year of Evanston city and township governments – would be approved by both houses of the General Assembly.
But if it is agreed to in Springfield and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, River Forest trustees would have to approve an ordinance placing the question on the ballot. That measure could appear on the November general election ballot, but Welch said in an interview late last week that placing it on the ballot in April 2015 would allow plenty of time for the proposition to be explained to voters,
"This bill will be targeted at reducing the layers of government that aren't necessary," Welch said. "It would not diminish services; it would enhance them because the village will add additional revenue to pay for programs that already exist. Less government is better."
The boundaries of the village and the township are the same. River Forest Township provides services for seniors and youth, as well as mental health, and general assistance. An assessor, aids residents with property tax concerns. Elected officials for the township include a supervisor, assessor, clerk and four trustees. Mental health and general assistance are administered by one person, who is not elected. The township's budget for the fiscal year that ended March 31 was $551,818, with almost all of the revenue coming from local property taxes.
The township's elected officials also serve as the board of managers of the Civic Center Authority, which operates the community center at Madison Street and Thatcher. If village and township government were merged it is uncertain at this point what would happen to the civic center authority.
Adduci said this is a good bill for several reasons.
"It will give the voters a voice to choose to combine a unit of local government. It will streamline services. If it passes it gives us the opportunity to eliminate duplication of administrative services and save taxpayers money. This will be good for River Forest," Adduci said.
Township Supervisor Carla Sloan said while she was aware that this legislation was brewing, she said the township is still in the early stages of understanding what its course of action will be.
"Trustees oppose the elimination of the township and we will work to preserve it," she said. "The township provides a wide range of services. We do it efficiently, and we do a good job at what we do."
The General Assembly last year overwhelmingly approved the Evanston legislation. A referendum will be on the ballot this March 18, said Erika Storlie, Evanston's deputy city manager.