Guest view: Overlapping jurisdiction of Belleville city, township is a burden on taxpayers

December 23, 2013 

All I want for Christmas is peace, happiness and lower taxes. Believe it or not, the easiest of those three to attain is lower taxes. It is a gift that we, the people, can give to ourselves.

In Illinois we have more units of local government, also known as taxing districts, than any other state. The real confusing part is when two layers of government share identical boundaries, also known as coterminous.

The city of Belleville and the township of Belleville are coterminous.

Typically Illinois townships have three functions: the assessment of property valuation, road maintenance, and distribution of financial aid to poor residents not eligible for other welfare programs. Belleville Township does not provide assessments or road repairs. The only function of Belleville Township is to provide for and administer the financial aid. Between 55 and 60 less fortunate individuals receive $100 a month. A quick approximation using those figures would lead you to believe they provide $70,000 in financial aid. So ask yourself why the township's tax levy is about 10 times that amount?

In this case, Belleville Township is taxing you almost $10 to pass out $1. Should you even be taxed at all so that someone else can pick and choose whose charity will receive your money?

No matter your answer to that, I have another question. If I told you we could lower property taxes without losing any jobs or services, would you be for it? Section 12-3.1 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes states: "Upon discontinuance of a coterminous township under article 27 of the township code, the coterminous municipality shall provide funds for and administer the public aid program."

Although coterminous governments in Illinois, by design, are difficult to eliminate, it is possible. In October 2011, the Evanston City Council voted 5-4 to submit the question of discontinuance of a coterminous township to a vote and to lobby the General Assembly for legislation that would eliminate the township and transfer its functions to the municipal government. If we do that here in Belleville, you will see an immediate reduction of property taxes and as stated earlier you will not see any loss in services. The two full-time employees at the township would join us at the city and they would continue to administer the general assistance.

The only loss would be that of six elected officials and a whole lot of overhead. The positions of township supervisor, clerk and four trustees would no longer exist.

Illinois has the most elected officials of any state as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it simply and said it best: "The less government we have the better." I strongly agree with his sentiments and I believe most of you do too.

Usually when elected officials talk about less government they are simply grandstanding; however, in this case we truly could lessen government.

There are a couple of different ways we can eliminate coterminous townships. The first way is for citizens to call Belleville alderman and request they call for a non-binding referendum like Evanston. The second way is for the citizens to petition to put on the ballot a binding referendum to eliminate the township. This would require signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters of St. Clair County.

I will choose to join with citizens to lead a petition drive calling for a binding referendum to eliminate this township. If you would like to join me and others in saving taxpayers millions of dollars in the future, you can contact me at facebook.com/LetsMakeThingsRight. It's time we take a stand.

Dallas B. Cook is city clerk of Belleville and clerk of Belleville Township.

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