The question of merging River Forest village and township governments could be addressed as part of the League of Women Voters of Oak Park-River Forest's 2014-2015 program, the organization's president said last week.
The membership's consideration of this effort comes as legislation, pending in Springfield, would allow River Forest voters — perhaps as early as November — to decide if the village and township governments should merge.
Though the issue may have been discussed in the early '70's, the League has never done a complete study of merging units of government, said Peggy Kell, LWV president.
League members will assess later this month whether taking up the issue is worthy of consideration. If there is interest, members will decide at their annual meeting in May whether to study and take a position on the issue or just provide educational information to the community.
"The public looks to the League to be open and non-partisan," said Kell, noting that many members already have contacted her about this issue. "It's a good organization to look at this."
The League engages in education and outreach to increase citizen involvement in local government. It also works to increase understanding of major public policy issues. One way they do this is by conducting studies, on national, state or local matters. A committee does a detailed analysis of the question and presents that information to the full membership to reach consensus on a position. The consensus position, if adopted, would be shared with the public as well as members.
In 2011, for example, the League studied and announced its support for the Oak Park Elementary District 97 referendum after a thorough study of the question.
If an informational study is conducted, material would be presented to the membership and the public. Whichever route the League takes will depend on whether a number of members can commit the time and energy to study the question, Kell said.
Conducting an informational study was the course the Evanston League of Women Voters took on the question of whether that city and township should merge. The Evanston League conducted a forum on the question earlier this month and distributed information on the measure. The initiative will be on their March 18 primary ballot, said Cate Whitcomb, president of the Evanston League.
Kell said if members agree to add this to the League's program and the bill doesn't go through, the League still may agree to study the issue. In that case, there would be no time constraints on getting the information gathered and then presented.
The state League's efforts in the 1970s to eliminate or restrict the power of townships were dropped in part because, at the time, the townships handled the Federal Revenue Sharing program, said Sharon Z. Alter, the League's Issues Committee co-chair.
Funding from revenue sharing played a role in the 1970s and '80s in helping to fund local government programs and services. That ended in 1986.
The state League has not taken a stance on townships, leaving it up to local leagues to study and work on, said Mark Kubasak, president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois.
If voters agree to the River Forest merger, services would be transferred to, and performed by, the village starting six months after the vote. The bill also calls for a tax to be levied that would be designated to pay for social services. The village would assume oversight of all township assets, including the Community Center. Township elected offices also would end.
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