When the Belleville Township board members voted unanimously Tuesday to shut down the township founded in 1885, Trustee Michael Hagberg said they paved the way to possibly save taxpayers an estimated $250,000 a year.
The township would close on May 15, 2017, as long as the Belleville City Council agrees to take over the township’s responsibilities of providing aid to needy individuals.
The state law that allows the dissolution had bipartisan support from state lawmakers last year because it is designed to cut overhead costs by letting the city take over the township’s duties. The exact amount of savings would not be known until the city begins handling the township’s duties.
“Congratulations, you all just made history,” said Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook after he tallied the unanimous vote for dissolution. Cook also serves as township clerk and has been a vocal supporter of closing the township in an effort to save money.
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The township has nearly the same borders as the City of Belleville.
This will allow the city to provide the same level of service without the township’s overhead expenses.
Belleville Township Trustee Michael Hagberg
“It’s time,” Trustee Joy Schreiber said of the dissolution.
And Trustee Joe Hubbard said he thinks the move to the city will work out.
“I am glad we have taken this step towards transferring the township’s duties to the city and dissolving the township,” Hagberg said. “This will allow the city to provide the same level of service without the township’s overhead expenses.”
Township Supervisor Dennis Korte declined to comment on the dissolution vote.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he has talked to City Attorney Garrett Hoerner about how the city would handle the township’s duties and said details of the plan will be released at a later date.
The township gives aid to needy individuals, often in the form of $245 gift cards to discount stores and rent assistance.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, introduced the bill that allowed the board to vote on the dissolution and not have to get the general public to vote on it. He said the board needed to wait until 2017 to close the township because that’s when the terms end for the elected township officials, as dictated by Illinois case law.
The township ordinance approved Tuesday states the dissolution would be revoked if the City Council doesn’t vote by Aug. 1 on an ordinance to take over the township’s duties.
Hagberg said the Aug. 1 deadline was set because people who want to run for local offices in the 2017 election can begin the process of getting their name on a ballot in August. He expects the city to approve an ordinance taking over the township’s duties, but if the city did not, then people would have time to file to run for township board in 2017.
Discord over salaries
While the board voted unanimously for the plan to close the township, there was sharp disagreement on the board on whether the township’s two employees should receive raises.
Korte recommended the employees get a 3 percent raise as part of proposed 2016-17 budget.
“They’re entitled to a raise this year,” Korte told the board. “I agreed with them for a 3 percent raise.”
“That’s news to all of us,” Hagberg said. Korte replied that for “years and years” the contract was settled between the supervisor and the union.
Schreiber said she didn’t think the employees should get a raise.
“There’s a lot of public sector people that haven’t seen a raise in 10 years, much less every single year,” she said.
Korte replied back: “That’s their problem, not ours.”
In the end, Korte and the other board members voted 5-0 to propose a budget that funds the salaries at their current rates.
A public hearing on the 2016-17 budget will be at 2:45 p.m. on March 15.