Advisory referendum on merger of River Forest township, village heads toward ballot

Citizen group pushes petitions to put issue before voters in November

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By Deborah Kadin

Contributing reporter

In the first of a three-step process that could change the mix of River Forest government units, voters this November will be asked in an advisory referendum if village and township governments should merge.

A group of local residents filed the necessary petitions Monday to place the advisory referendum on the ballot. 

The action proposed in the resident-driven advisory referendum measure only can take effect if legislation is eventually passed in Springfield allowing for the voters to cast ballots on a binding initiative and if voters approve it.

In March, efforts to get a measure on the ballot as a binding initiative for November appeared dead when the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Welch, tabled it. Then this spring, a group of residents started considering an effort to push for a non-binding initiative. 

"The idea was to put this before the voters, and that's a good thing," said Rick Gillis, one of the residents who helped push the question forward. "This is a big issue, the combining of two of our village taxing bodies. It's not a village or the township decision, but rather a decision that has to be made by the residents of River Forest."

Carla Sloan, the elected supervisor of River Forest Township, said in an e-mail response to Wednesday Journal, "River Forest Township has been fully aware of the petition efforts and acknowledges that some of the village (government) and park district leadership are part of this activity. We are confident that the residents of River Forest will continue to be open and willing to listen to the facts regarding River Forest Township and the value provided by its programs and services."

In excess of 400 residents signed petitions – somewhat more than the requisite number required by law. The petitions were submitted at village hall before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline. The deadline to launch a challenge to the referendum petitions is 5 p.m. this coming Monday. As of Wednesday morning, no one has challenged the measure. 

The group had to gather 378 signatures – at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for candidates for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election by the registered voters of the municipality – to place the question on the ballot. 

The effort to gather signatures on the advisory question started during the first part of July.

The measure on the Nov. 4 ballot will read this way:

"Shall the residents of the Village of River Forest, IL, endeavor to lower their tax burden and use their tax dollars more efficiently by merging the existing Village of River Forest and Township of River Forest administrative and governmental services into the Village of River Forest only and dissolve and abolish township government while still maintaining the same level of constituent services?"

What does it mean? Said Gillis, it means "in an effort to lower taxes and use tax dollars more efficiently, shall the Township of River Forest merge with the Village of River Forest, with the services currently provided by the township continued by the village at the same level of service?" 

In her email, Sloan pointed to recent efforts by the township and village government to discuss possible ways the two governments could collaborate to lower costs. "On July 14, the River Forest Township board and the River Forest village board sat down in good faith and agreed to work together to explore ways to reduce costs and enhance programs and services for our residents. Both board remain committed to this ongoing effort, which includes planned new collaborative outreach activities," said Sloan.

Some form of ballot initiative had been contemplated since January when Welch initially filed HB 4425. The legislation would have allowed a referendum to be placed on the ballot calling for consolidation of a coterminous village and township. If successful, services would have been transferred to and performed by the village six months later if the measure was approved by voters. The bill also called for a tax to be levied that would be designated to pay for social servicewould have allowed voters to decide whether to consolidate the village and the township. The village would have assumed oversight of all township assets, including the Community Center.

After the legislation was introduced, lobbying for and against passage was intense. During the winter, Village Administrator Eric Palm and Sloan met once to discuss collaboration; an effort to continue discussions prove unsuccessful. The issue was addressed during meetings of the village board of trustees. Then in March, lacing support in Springfield Welch tabled the bill, leaving the door open for it to come back during the fall veto session. 

In April, the village suspended all efforts towards its adoption. During discussion of the issue, Village President Catherine Adduci, a supporter of the bill, noted if "residents want to pursue other avenues to ensure their voices are heard, they are encouraged to do so," according to the minutes of the April 15 meeting. She made similar remarks during her state of the village address in early May.

Despite those signals, village officials never publicly discussed placing an advisory question on the ballot. 

River Forest's efforts would mirror those taken by Evanston, which was the first community with a coterminous township and municipality to merge. There, more than two-thirds of the voters in the March 2012 primary supported allowing officials to pursue dissolution. Legislation allowing merger and dissolution was adopted in the General Assembly last year. On March 18, nearly two-thirds of the voters elected to abolish Evanston Township. 

The legislation did not have a shot at passage until after the advisory question had been approved, said state Sen. Dan Biss of Evanston, a chief sponsor of that bill.

Welch said that it was one of the issues he came up against with his bill and tabled it in hopes that River Forest voters would take the same action. 

Welch said he would be "more than happy" to bring the measure back in November. If his effort proves successful, voters will come back and cast ballots on it during the spring 2015 consolidated election.

"I'm pleased to see residents taking advantage of the process and moving forward with an advisory referendum," Welch said. "This is something we should all watch closely."

Ironically, residents were gathering signatures around the time that the village and the township were planning to discuss collaboration on some administrative efforts. Palm and Sloan were to meet to continue looking at options. No meeting has yet been scheduled.

The petition drive and the village-township discussion are unrelated.

Neither the village nor the township can spend any public dollars to urge a voter to vote for or against any candidate or proposition. However, each entity would be in a position to provide factual background relating to a referendum that would help people make up their minds, said Kenneth Menzel, deputy general counsel of the State Board of Elections.

Reader Comments

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Senior from RF  

Posted: August 9th, 2014 7:41 AM

@Do you research....I agree why can't we all get along. I am all for that. I believe the Township should merge with the Village. Also, I believe FP and OP charge different fees to non residents...RFCC cannot bc they are a non profit. AS far as money, if you as Carla Sloan she says it is a lousy cup of coffee. Well...I am on a fix income I need that lousy cup of coffee savings..if is greater than 0, then it is worth a look.

Do Your Research  

Posted: August 8th, 2014 6:01 PM

@Mr. Middle...Why can't the RFPD and RFCC both exist in our community? The RFCC invested $600,000 in the building back in the 80's, so I do believe they have first rights to continue to rent the building. I personally don't object to people o/s of RF using the RFCC - what if FP or OP wouldn't allow RF residents to use their pools? We don't live on an island, but in a community. Back to the merger, does anyone know the amount of $ that will be saved?

Mr. Middle  

Posted: August 8th, 2014 7:18 AM

@Do..Ah so you are referring to the idea the the RFPD wanting to invest money in an aging facility and improve overall services as a problem? The TW is not the RFCC. Again the RFCC is a separate entity that is NOT the TW. Also, the RFCC services are not limited to RF residents. The RFPD rightly suggested that maybe it should be. So the RFPD would not have "taken over" the TW. It was seeking to rent and improve the space. Its an important difference.

River Forest  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 10:30 PM

@Do your research.....the question is clear and the direction will be clear. Do the same services with less money. I am guessing it is two of you guys talking about the building and the rest of us are talking about taxes which is what this referendum is. Less government and less taxes.

Do Your Research  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 10:09 PM

@Mr. Middle. In 2010 this very newspaper reported in a story, available online, about the RFPD attempting a hostile takeover of the RFCC building (not the Oilily space they didn't get the votes on), "The park district hopes to take over most of the building and its programming, potentially eliminating the community center in the process." Same people, same story - just a new year. It's all about the building. The village trustees show zero interest in providing the services of the township.

Mr Middle from Mr Middle  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 6:29 PM in 2008 the RFPD tried to buy an entirely different building in response to little shared use. Also check with Joe Berios about tax objections. With this year there is a simplified form and little left for a homeowner to object to. Evanston figured this out and if you do a little research you will see how unnecessary a township assessor will be in the future. In fact anyone with an internet connection can get all information the township assessor can give you now.

Do Your Research  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 4:05 PM

@Mr. Middle. I recall the RFPD trying to buy the building for a mere $1? Or was it $10? As I understand,the reason this building even exists in our community is because a state grant was received and the RFCC chipped in $600,000. Not the village, nor the park district. The RFCC. Also I have no interest in calling the Cook County Assessor when I need tax assistance, or going downtown -- like Evanston residents. Good luck on that.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 1:33 PM

@Do 2008 Mr. Cargie and RFPD tried to buy and remodel a new building. This was fought in the Village hard and the referendum was lost. The history behind that was easy in that the RFPD felt they where not getting fair use from the RFCC. For those that got into the issue very deeply that is all there was. The RFTW in unnecessary. and a waste. If Evanston can figure that out so can we.


Posted: August 7th, 2014 8:33 AM

@Murphy said there is no savings....check out the article in the WJ that shows Township administrative expense to 40% of their budget .,-a-look-at-River-Forest-Township-administrative-costs/ There is inefficiency and we can do better as a community

Joan from River Forest  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 8:29 AM

@Murphy...not sure you are on a fixed income or perhaps you are not sensitive to those that are. $150 or $1 of tax savings is worth our Village and Township to consider merging. And, I understand the Village does provide similar services. As a senior I use the Village frequently. I am not sure you understand the need for Seniors to use Village Hall. Vote yes in November and save tax $'s!

Do Your Research from River Forest  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 8:14 AM

A few years ago, the RFPD attempted to get the building at 8020 Madison, with Cargie saying it was inefficient to have the RFPD and RFCC. Take a moment and google the stories printed online. That didn't work, so now the Village wants to take over the Township, with Cargie once again trying to get the building. There is no overlap in services the Village and Township provide, just like there wasn't for the RFCC and RFPD. Same story, same players, just a new year.

Greg from RF  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 7:46 AM

For years I followed the Township issue in this paper and other sources. Whenever the TW is threaten new people come out of the woodwork and comment here for the TW. Whenever requests have been made about full disclosure of expenses and relations to the RFCC are asked...they are not fully answered. All voters should ask why the lack of transparency and why the defense of a board with limited scope? Less boards would do us good IMHO.

Pierangela Murphy from River Forest  

Posted: August 7th, 2014 6:39 AM

As worded the referendum is misleading. Lowering a $15000 tax bill by $150 is not the issue. No elimination of services means the taxpayers spend the same, the only difference is that the Village will administer those services but not eliminate them. It is about something else, the RFCC building. It will cost the taxpayers circa $790,000 to break the 18 year lease. Time to come clean about the truth behind this issue. Do you trust the Village to provide the same quality of services?

Lizbeth from River Forest  

Posted: August 6th, 2014 7:49 PM

I have been following this story for months. I have not heard the River Forest Village Trustees provide any ideas of how they will save money, or express any interest in providing social services to the residents of our village. Your tax bill will not go down. It's all about the building at 8020 Madison, and the interests of a few select people who are hell bent on getting it.

Joan from River Forest  

Posted: August 6th, 2014 5:45 PM

Finally, a chance for the residents to have a choice. My question is why is the Township so adamant of not letting the residents decide? It seems to me there is waste and inefficiency with two units of government. The time is now to vote yes on the November ballot.

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