Special legislation aimed at allowing voters to choose whether to dissolve Belleville Township cleared its initial hurdle in Springfield.
The House Counties and Townships Committee last Thursday voted 9-2 to send House Bill 3693 to the House floor ahead of an upcoming Friday deadline for House bills to leave their committees.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, is sponsoring the bill.
Local efforts to allow Belleville Township to dissolve and transfer their services over to the city of Belleville have been led by City Clerk Dallas Cook, who also is the township's clerk. He and other supporters argue that since the city and township have identical boundaries, the township as a taxing district is unnecessary because many of the services traditionally handled by townships are provided by the city.
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Current state law prohibits local, individual dissolution of townships and only allows whole counties to vote to eliminate every township within them. Language in the current version of Hoffman’s bill states that a township is dissolved once majorities on both the township board and city council approve a dissolution ordinance.
Supporters say allowing the city to take on Belleville Township's only unique service — providing general assistance to needy families — could come at a savings for taxpayers because that work could be done with already existing staff at City Hall. As for the township's cash surplus, which totals more than $700,000, Cook has proposed returning it to taxpayers.
“I’m obviously ecstatic,” Cook said Tuesday. “I thank (Rep. Hoffman) and am impressed that a Democrat in the state is willing to put a bill forth that eliminates a form of government. I think it’s something that everyone can be pleased with.”
Cook added that motion on the issue should be a positive sign for citizens.
“If you see something that can be done better, take it upon yourself to contact your legislators,” he said.
But passage of the bill won’t suddenly allow townships statewide to decide to dissolve. Townships must meet all of the following requirements before they’re eligible for dissoloution under Hoffman’s bill:
Have boundaries identical or substantially identical to a municipality.
Have an area of at least 23 square miles.
Be in counties with a population of at least 270,000.
Hoffman told the News-Democrat early in the legislative session that he was working to craft a balanced bill that dealt with the local circumstances without putting the services townships in rural parts of the state provide in jeopardy.
“Passing a bill and making a law is never easy,” he said Tuesday.
He said the earliest that House members could discuss the bill on the floor is after lawmakers return from their Easter break.