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Illinois lawmaker seeks to abolish townships to lower taxes

CHICAGO (AP) — A state lawmaker says Illinois needs to consolidate some of its roughly 7,000 units of government to reduce local property taxes, and he thinks eliminating townships would be a good start.

Republican state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills is sponsoring a bill to make it easier to mount township abolition campaigns in McHenry County, the Chicago Tribune reported. He said "the reason property taxes are so high in Illinois, is because we have 7,000 units of government."

"The only way we're going to reduce property taxes is to consolidate local governments," McSweeney said. "Townships are just a start."

Illinois has more than 1,400 townships and more units of government than any other state.

Townships are a layer of government formed primarily to serve rural communities, but most states don't have them. Many studies show that local government consolidation saves money.

But advocates of township government argue that it's the most responsive and inexpensive way to help residents.

"It's an emotional issue that will drive people to vote simply because they see the word 'consolidation," said state Rep. Steve Reick, a Woodstock Republican. "I'm not against consolidation, but only if it actually saves money."

Discussion of consolidating townships comes after questions of spending by a former Algonquin Township Highway commissioner prompted an investigation.

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser alleges he received an anonymous package containing old credit card bills that were expensed to the township road department before he took it over last year.

The expenses included two cashmere and cardigan sweaters and a wool coat for $349. The bills in question were from Robert Miller's years as commissioner. Miller has denied Gasser's allegations of improper spending, calling them "character assassination."

An investigation by the McHenry County state's attorney's office began after the unusual expenses were discovered.

Gasser has also become a target of criticism for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees to fight the unionization of the road district workforce. Gasser filed suit in McHenry County seeking to have the township clerk preserve the bills. He said they show township credit cards were used to buy gift cards for employees as bonuses.

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