As the Belleville Township board on Tuesday took the first step toward dissolving the 130-year-old township, several advocates for the homeless asked the trustees to find a way to increase aid to the homeless in Belleville.
Also on Tuesday, Michael Hagberg was appointed to replace former Senior Trustee Joyce Laux, who recently resigned from the five-member board because of health reasons. Hagberg won the appointment when Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, who also serves as the township clerk, broke a 2-2 vote and voted for Hagberg.
The trustees directed their attorney to begin drafting an ordinance for the dissolution of the township, which was founded in 1885.
They can do this because last week Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 3693, which allows the township board to vote on whether to dissolve the township. Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the bill because they believe taxpayers’ money can be saved if the township’s overhead costs are eliminated.
The law is worded so that the dissolution can take place without a vote by the public.
The township is required to provide general assistance to needy individuals and the new law calls for the city of Belleville to take over this responsibility if the township shuts down. The township has the same borders as the city of Belleville.
With the township’s duties eventually headed toward the city, Mayor Mark Eckert said he’s confident the city can handle the new duties of assisting needy individuals.
“How do we give them the best service that we can? How can we make this even better and streamline things at the same time? I think there’s a way to do it, I really do,” Eckert said.
To work out the details of the transition, he would like to form a committee which would include the advocates for the homeless.
City residents now have a line on their property tax bill for the township. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $40 a year to fund the township’s budget.
Eckert said it’s too early to say how this line on resident’s tax bills will be listed after the township is dissolved.
Belleville can enter into an agreement with St. Clair County or the state of Illinois to administer the township’s general assistance program but Eckert said he doesn’t recommend doing that.
Cory Hartz, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Belleville, has been active in helping the homeless since moving to the city two years ago.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity to look at funding for a new homeless initiative in the city,” Hartz told the board.
“I can tell you doing nothing is the wrong decision,” Hartz said. “We need to take an opportunity to look and see what we can do in a big way.”
Hartz said recent efforts to help the homeless in Belleville have taken a step in a positive direction but funding is always stumbling block.
“The big question always is, ‘Where’s the money going to come from?’”
Gerry Hasenstab, executive director of Catholic Urban Programs, also urged the board to find a way to fund a “progressive” program to help the homeless because this is a “very big issue in the city.”
Hasenstab said one way to help the homeless would be to have case managers who could work to help get people off the streets.
Trustee Joy Schreiber said she would like to have a meeting between the board and the homeless advocates to get their ideas.
She said in an interview that the township’s “swan song” could be to give a sizable donation to help the homeless.
New board member
Hagberg, a self-employed computer programmer, has not held elected office before but he previously ran as an independent for City Council and attends most city and township meetings.
Hagberg said he looks forward to serving on the board.
But the vote was not without controversy.
Supervisor Dennis Korte and Trustee Joe Hubbard, who were members of the Good Government Party, voted against Hagberg while Schreiber and Trustee Joe Swierczek, who were elected as independents, voted for Hagberg.
Cook, an independent who previously tried to hire Hagberg as his deputy clerk, cast the deciding vote for his ally.
Swierczek said Hagberg would be a “fine trustee.” But Eckert called the vote “extremely political.”
Laux was a member of the former Good Government Party and if the party had still been active, the board would have been required to replace Laux with a member of the Good Government Party. Eckert, who was chairman of the Good Government Party, announced in December that party leaders were disbanding the party.
Eckert said the board could have save money by keeping the seat vacant but Hagberg said he expects to find ways the township could save money and cover the cost of the $2,500 annual salary given to board members.