Belleville Township officials are starting to talk about how to end their agency.
The discussion is taking on more urgency after the General Assembly this week sent Gov. Bruce Rauner a bill that would allow the township to pass an ordinance to dissolve the township founded in 1885.
If the governor signs the bill, the township board will face a host of issues. How would the township’s duties and assets be transferred to the city of Belleville? Would the township’s general assistance clients still be served? What would happen to the two full-time township employees? Would the Belleville City Council accept the township’s duties? And when would this transition occur?
These are just some of the questions township board members are now tackling.
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Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, who also serves as the township clerk, told the township board members during their regular meeting Tuesday that they will face many “challenges” during a transition period. But he added: “I think there is only one thing to focus on: And that’s whether or not you want to leave a legacy of being a governmental agency that was willing to dissolve itself for the good of the people and if you do that I think that’s a very honorable thing and I think it’s going to be a successful thing.”
The township board agreed that they want talk to their attorney about drafting an ordinance calling for the dissolution of the township, which has the same borders as the city of Belleville.
The township is tasked with providing general assistance to needy families in Belleville, but critics of the system say the township spends too much on overhead and people could be helped more efficiently if the township was dissolved.
Rauner’s spokeswoman said the governor would review the bill, but she added Rauner “is supportive of local government consolidation.”
Cook told the township board members he’s confident that Rauner will sign the bill.
Township board member Joe Hubbard told his colleagues it would be “great” to save money but he is concerned about the welfare of the township’s clients, because they “always wind up getting hurt by the politicians some way or another.”
But Cook noted, “We are mandated by law to continue these services. There is no way that we cannot continue these services.”
Cook said if the board decides to dissolve the township, all of the township’s assets would be transferred to the city.
“There’s no problem at all with funding, whatsoever,” Cook said. “We will be able to serve the clients so much better. We will have more money to help the community. This is a way to provide the exact same services, if not better, at a lower cost so you get a better bang for your buck.”
Cook said the city has discussed contracting out the township’s duties to St. Clair County, but he said he believes the city should retain these duties.
The township board members also discussed whether the township’s two full-time employees would be able to retain their jobs with the city. Board members and Joyce Laux and Joy Schreiber indicated this would be a good idea.
After the meeting, Cook said in an interview that he thought existing staff in the City Clerk’s office could handle the township’s duties but conceded one of the township employees could be hired.
“The goal here is to cut costs as much as possible,” Cook said.
“I trust that they are going to handle it well. I’m not worried about it,” Cook said about the aldermen who will face questions about taking over the township’s duties.
Earlier this year, Cook suggested the township’s assets be rebated to the taxpayers, but he said this week all the township’s assets would be sent to the city.
Schreiber suggested the township review what happened last year when the Evanston Township was dissolved and taken over by the city of Evanston, near Chicago.
State lawmakers passed House Bill 3693, which was initially sponsored by state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea. Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, joined as a co-sponsor to give the bill bipartisan support. Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Belleville Township budget highlights
Total appropriations: $785,900
Mandated general assistance appropriations: $223,000