When legislators last year voted unanimously to eliminate Belleville Township, state Rep. Dwight Kay thought it was such a good idea that he introduced legislation to dissolve East St. Louis Township, too.
But despite strong bi-partisan support for getting rid of Belleville Township, Kay’s bill never made it out of committee.
“I was told by the chairman that he would not run my bill,” said Kay, R-Glen Carbon. “It got no support from the Democrats.”
State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, and state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, whose districts cover East St. Louis Township, did not sign on as sponsors to Kay’s bill, despite supporting the bill by state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, to dissolve Belleville Township, which Clayborne sponsored in the Senate.
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East St. Louis Township pays Clayborne’s law firm $850 a month for legal representation.
Neither Clayborne nor Jackson responded to written questions and phone calls to their offices.
Belleville and East St. Louis townships’ boundaries are coterminous with their respective cities. Neither maintain road or sewer districts. Their sole purpose is to give money to people and non-profits that help the poor and aged. They disburse money to poor people who have no dependents and receive no government assistance, giving individuals up to $245 a month in housing, food or utility assistance. They also help fund non-profit programs such as Programs and Services for Older Persons.
Belleville Township in its 2015 audit listed expenditures of about $450,000. Of that, 39 percent went to general assistance and charities. The same year, East St. Louis Township spent $1.12 million, with 18 percent going to help the poor.
I was told by the chairman that he would not run my bill. It got no support from the Democrats.
State Rep. Dwight Kay on bill to dissolve East St. Louis Township
“I think they should be alarmed by the disproportionate amount going to welfare,” Kay said. “That’s their purpose.”
In 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the law that allowed local politicians to dissolve Belleville Township in May 2017. At the time, Rauner said he supported local government consolidation and reform “because it helps give taxpayers a better value for their money.”
The townships’ revenue comes largely from property taxes. Rural townships can also be responsible for maintaining infrastructure, such as roads, cemeteries or sewers.
▪ Belleville Township Supervisor Dennis Korte earns about $20,000 a year while East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton earns $65,000 a year.
▪ Belleville Township trustees receive an annual salary of $2,500 while East St. Louis Township trustees receive $10,245 per year.
▪ East St. Louis Township employs two financial consultants, including Hamilton’s sister, June Hamilton Dean, and George Laktzian, at a cost of $33,000 a year each. Belleville Township employs two clerks besides Korte, who works part-time.
Korte and city officials decided in 2014 there was no longer a need for taxpayers to continue funding Belleville Township and started the proceedings to dissolve the township. They were told it took an act of the legislature to do so.
Although the legislation passed unanimously, the bill was specific and applied only to Belleville Township. To dissolve East St. Louis Township would require either another piece of legislation or a voter referendum.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti chaired the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force and recommended giving consolidation powers to all Illinois counties. Legislation was introduced, but like Kay’s bill, it died in committee.
“Given that Illinois has the largest number of local governments of any state, which contribute to the highest property taxes in the nation, local government consolidation is a way to reduce the property tax burden on hardworking families,” said Allie Bovis, Sanguinetti’s spokeswoman.
Kay introduced his legislation to dissolve East St. Louis Township after he was approached by some East St. Louis residents, he said. With 45 percent of residents living below the federal poverty line and property tax rates that are higher than Cook County, Kay said legislators need to scrutinize how taxpayers’ dollars are spent.
“Those residents said if the township was gone, there was a good deal of savings that could have been used to serve people better,” Kay said.