House OKs Belleville Township dissolution bill

Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, on the Illinois House floor in a BND file photo.
Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, on the Illinois House floor in a BND file photo. Brian Brueggemann/BND

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow the Belleville Township board to approve an ordinance to dissolve the township.

State representatives voted 106-7 for the bill just hours before what could be one of the last annual meetings convened by the township.

During the annual meeting Tuesday night, residents who attended were asked to vote on approving the township’s treasurer’s report and a majority of the people approved the report. No formal action was taken on the dissolution issue.

So would the board vote to dissolve the township if the state bill is enacted?

Two trustees – Joy Schreiber and Joe Swierczek – said they would vote for dissolution. Supervisor Dennis Korte Sr. declined to comment while trustees Joyce Laux and Joe Hubbard said they would consider the idea.

“Simply put, the township spends more taxpayer dollars on salaries and on the building that houses the township than it spends on general assistance,” Swierczek said.

Schreiber called the township operations “wasteful.”

Dallas Cook, who serves as clerk for the township and for the city, earlier this year released information that shows the township spent about $112,000 more on overhead last fiscal year than it did on assistance payments.

The treasurer’s report states that as of March 31, the township had about $784,000 in cash reserves.

Cook believes the township board would approve an ordinance that would shut down the township, which was founded in 1885.

The township has the same borders as the city, and Schreiber said state law calls for the city to take over the township’s general assistance duties if the township is dissolved.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, in February filed House Bill 3693. Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, recently joined as a co-sponsor to give the bill bipartisan support.

Kay supports the bill because it paves the way to reduce the number of governmental agencies.

“We’re way too big,” Kay said. “Government needs to be smaller. We have to do things differently.”

Hoffman said moving the township’s duties to the city would reduce the costs of providing services.

Hoffman said the bill is worded so it only applies to Belleville Township. It also is worded so that the dissolution could occur without having to go through the “very difficult” process of putting the dissolution question on a ballot, Hoffman said.

Schreiber said she would like to see the question put on the ballot for voters to decide.

Townships often provide road and bridge maintenance but Belleville Township only provides temporary general assistance to needy families who are not yet on state aid.

Hoffman said he is “hopeful” the Senate will pass the bill and send it to Gov. Bruce Rauner but he couldn’t make a prediction for the bill’s outcome.

Cook said he did not think the dissolution would occur until Korte’s term ends in 2017. The township’s two full-time employees – Jennifer Conklin and Debbie Dawson – said if the township’s duties are transferred to City Hall, they hope to keep their union jobs. Korte earns $20,000 annually plus health care benefits while trustees earn $2,500.

Cook has said he would like to see a committee formed to decide how to liquidate the township’s resources. One way could be to rebate the property owners the money the township has left over.