Metro-East News

Despite no duties, tax collectors still elected in Madison County — one gets paid

Venice Township building.
Venice Township building.

It’s been decades since Madison County’s tax collectors actually collected taxes, but they’re still on the ballots — and one is still being paid.

Only five Illinois counties still elect township tax collectors, who were once responsible for collecting most of the taxes in Illinois. In Peoria and Sangamon counties, the township tax collectors still collect the majority of taxes owed. But in Will, Cook and Madison counties, tax collectors remain on the ballot without any official responsibilities.

In the modern era, the township assessor evaluates a property for its value and sends the assessment to the chief county assessor. It is then sent to the county clerk and to the treasurer’s office, which calculates and sends the property tax bill. Property owners may pay the treasurer’s office directly or through their local banks.

The position of township tax collector is now the relic of an earlier era. But it takes a ballot vote to end that era, so in many Madison County townships the position remains on the books, but empty. In other Madison County townships, tax collectors are still elected.

County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, who is also the Jarvis Township Supervisor, said he was a County Board member in 1982 when the decision was made to shift collection from tax collectors to banks and the county treasurer.

“I remember that some townships really complained about losing their tax collectors,” Dunstan said. “They took some heat off the townships… but it saved the taxpayers a lot of money to allow the banks to collect the taxes instead of paying a tax collector a salary.”

Dunstan said now the position of tax collector mostly exists on the ballot. For at least 30 years, he said, Madison County’s taxes have been collected by the treasurer’s office, and the position is “absolutely not paid” in Jarvis Township.

Tax collectors do not collect taxes, so there’s no reason for them to be paid.

Alan Dunstan, Jarvis Township supervisor and County Board chairman

“Tax collectors do not collect taxes, so there’s no reason for them to be paid,” Dunstan said. “It’s really a nonexistent position.”

According to the Illinois Attorney General’s office, the procedure to remove the office of tax collector from the ballot would involve a countywide referendum. A petition signed by at least 10 percent of the total number of voters in the last general election would have to be filed, and the question then placed on the ballot. A simple majority “yes” vote would end the practice.

Ken Menzel, general counsel for the Illinois Board of Elections, affirmed that by his reading of the statute, it would have to be a countywide decision, and could not be done township by township. He added, though, that the rules surrounding tax collectors are “a patchwork of law going back 80 years.”

In the most recent election, Edwardsville, Foster, Godfrey and Nameoki townships had “tax collector” as an open position on the ballot, but no candidates filed.

In three other townships, tax collectors were elected:

• In Chouteau Township, Violet Taylor is the current tax collector. She appears on the 2013 election results, but she is not listed on the township’s letterhead with other officers. She could not be reached for comment, and does not appear to draw a salary.

Chouteau Township responded to the News-Democrat’s request for a current payroll with a list of titles and salaries, but no names. Township clerk Carole Meyer declined to release the names, stating that it was not township policy. The News-Democrat is in the process of appealing that decision under the Freedom of Information Act.

The title of tax collector was not listed among those receiving a stipend.

• In Venice Township, the tax collector is John C. Williams. Elected most recently in 2013, Williams received a stipend of $1,838 in 2015, increased from $1,560 in 2011.

Venice Township Supervisor Andy Economy said he believed they were required to keep electing tax collectors in case their services would be needed again.

In the meantime, Economy said Williams does odd jobs and miscellaneous tasks for the village in return for his stipend, since he does not actually collect taxes.

“We have him helping with the senior citizens on Tuesdays, and we call him to pick up commodities and help out when we have extra donations for the seniors,” Economy said.

We have him helping with the senior citizens on Tuesdays, and we call him to pick up commodities and help out when we have extra donations for the seniors.

Andy Economy, Venice Township supervisor

Economy said he was aware that other townships do not pay their tax collectors, but said Venice always has. He said in decades past the job paid significantly more, but was reduced down to its current level.

Williams could not be reached for comment.

• In Jarvis Township, Mary Andrea May was elected tax collector most recently in November 2013. Then Virgil “Pete” Gebhart resigned as a trustee in December 2013, and May was appointed to take his place. She is currently listed on the Jarvis Township website and on the township payroll as a trustee and is paid accordingly; all trustees receive an annual stipend of $2,600.

No tax collector was appointed to take her place. May said she ran for the position as a way to begin an involvement in public service. Her father previously served as a trustee, and suggested that she run.

“For me, it was a way to get an insight into how the township worked,” she said. “I wanted to give back to the community where I grew up.”

Dunstan said whenever a Jarvis Township trustee resigns or otherwise leaves office, they look first to the tax collector — already an elected official — to fill that spot. Three previous trustees have succeeded to the board from the tax collector’s position, he said.

May said as tax collector, she attended meetings and was able to observe and learn about the issues and projects handled by the township. She said it was like an internship; a “nice segue” into stepping up to the trustee position where she now serves, rather than stepping into the position cold.

“Because it doesn’t cost anything, it’s a nice way to get people working with the township,” May said. “It’s good to have new ideas to help the people of the township.”

In Jarvis Township, at least, electing tax collectors is part tradition, Dunstan said. Township officials have traditionally run as a slate, with a person in each open spot and working as a team, he said.

“When you run as a slate, you have to slate someone for every position,” Dunstan said.

In years past, voters could simply select the whole slate, and everyone on the slate received a vote. That is no longer permitted on Illinois ballots, but the officials still run as a slate out of tradition, Dunstan said.

“If we could run as a team without running someone as tax collector, that would be great,” Dunstan said. “It’s just a position still on the books, but I don’t know if you can get rid of it… if there’s a way to (stop electing tax collectors), I’d be interested to know about it.”

It’s crazy. I don’t know why you can’t just abolish it.

Andy Economy, Venice Township supervisor

Economy said he also would support such a choice. “That would be less headaches and less money we have to spend if we didn’t have to (elect tax collectors),” he said.

Economy said as of this week, he has spoken with the Venice Township’s attorneys about beginning a petition drive to put elimination of the tax collector position on the ballot.

“It’s crazy. I don’t know why you can’t just abolish it,” he said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald