A spotlight has been on River Forest Township since January when Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th) introduced HB 4425, allowing voters to decide by referendum if they want to merge the village and township.
River Forest Township is an autonomous government entity with elected officials and taxing power. Its service areas include youth, seniors, mental health and general assistance (welfare).
Overseeing township programs is Carla Sloan, who served as clerk for three years before she ran unopposed and was elected supervisor in April. The position is part-time with an annual salary of $32,000; it is one of three elected, part-time, paid, township positions.
Dan Haley and Deb Kadin, Sloan and the township's spokesman, Matt Baron, recently sat down and talked about HB 4425, as part of a more extensive interview about the township.
Here is an edited transcript:
What is the mission of the township government?
The township watches over the human services of our population — youth, mental health and seniors. We have the assessor function. We are responsible for general assistance.
When did you become aware of conversations between Welch and (Village President) Cathy Adduci toward looking at merger?
I met with Cathy in September; we talked collaboration and communication. I thought the merger was not an issue.
You were also aware that there had been talk for 20 years about townships?
I never thought that [included] River Forest Township. In October I got an email from Cathy that we need to talk about a bill Welch was about to introduce. It targeted River Forest Township. No conversations had ever taken place within the village.
Before all this, were there not conversations between the village and the township?
In fall 2012, [Village Administrator] Eric Palm came to Veronica Belmonte [former township supervisor] with a two-page proposal to eliminate the township and consolidate all positions and services in the village. There was no structure or definite plan. Our board talked about it and decided in closed session, as there were issues of employment and potential litigation, that there was an upcoming election and people needed to run. We didn't see that this would result in any cost savings or that it would be beneficial.
So this was not completely out of the blue that village government might be interested in revisiting this topic?
I thought it had gone away. In December [Pat Deady, the township attorney and Sloan] made a presentation to Welch about the township. He thanked us, said we were impressive, and that he still had not introduced the bill.
In January, Welch and the village and the township met around the table and talked about this. He turned to me and asked if I was going to fight this. I said I was personally opposed to it, but I have a board of trustees to consult with. Once again [our board] went into closed session to talk about it.
On Jan. 23, Welch introduced his bill. He forwarded a draft to Deady and Adduci, but not to me.
You're saying to the village give us a chance to explain ourselves, talk and negotiate when previous efforts were clearly shut down?
It's not necessarily to negotiate. The village is saying it can deliver the same services and save the taxpayers thousands. We say it cannot be done. It's going to cost the same, if not more.
The township outsources a lot of senior and youth services to Oak Park.
Outsourcing is the wrong word. It's a very active partnership with Oak Park. We do not just write a check.
Why wouldn't social services continue?
It's unclear what happens to the township levy. Let's say the village can assume the township levy. What guarantees are there that the money will be retained for human services?
The bill includes an enterprise fund specifically designated for social services. That's by law.
We're not sure. These services, mission and constituencies are 100 percent of our focus. If this becomes part of the village, number 15 on the list will be mental health, senior services and youth. There is no guarantee the funds cannot be rolled over to pay for sewers or something else.
The other issue is we're accountable; we live in River Forest. Once it's rolled into village hall, it becomes part of the village budget. Positions can be cut. We are the best advocate for these services. Then there's the assessor. We give a lot of personal service to people. The village could hire a tax advocate or advisor but it's not the assessor.
Won't the village continue to work with Oak Park on youth and seniors?
Who's going to do this? On average it might save a household $10 to $15 to $20. I ask people in River Forest if they are willing to dismantle [township programs and services] and move it all into the village framework for $10 to $15 a year. That's a couple of Starbucks. To most of the people I talk to, they laugh.
Take off your hat as a supervisor and put on your hat as a resident. Wouldn't you want to see a lower tax burden if you could?
I'm not willing to give up something that's good and works for a lousy $10 or $20 bucks.
Isn't this about eliminating a layer of government?
It works if it's not doing a good job. That's not the case here.
Why have you brought Matt Baron on board?
I had intended to bring him on board before the train wreck. One goal is to raise awareness of the township in the community. I cannot do that by myself.
What happens going forward?
It's important to get elected officials together to talk. We want them to hear why we oppose this and why think we can do it better.
You are happy to go to the voters and make your case?
Yes. We will prevail. A lot of people are fans of the way things work.