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Editorial: Change status quo? Look at townships

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Recently, we wrote about the differences between Avon Township Supervisor Lisa Rusch and her predecessor, Sam Yingling, now a Democratic state representative from Grayslake. This dispute wasn't well-known before our story because few people are watching the township.

That's not unusual; townships rarely get much scrutiny. If people are paying any attention to local government, their focus is on municipalities, school districts or even park districts.

Only 11 states have active township government, and in Illinois, 18 of the state's 102 counties have no townships.

Under state law, townships have three obligations: maintain roads, assess properties for taxation purposes and provide aid to the poor. Many suburban townships, though, have extended their activities to youth and senior services, which state law allows.

In the 1800s, it made sense to have another layer of government close to home, when transportation and communication were slow. But does anyone seriously believe that if the state started over, we would create 1,400 townships with three unrelated responsibilities?

In most states, counties maintain roads outside of municipal limits and assess properties. As for townships' aid to the poor, that function dates to before the creation of the welfare safety net. A state agency could absorb the townships' welfare role, saving on administrative costs.

Many townships, Avon included, almost entirely overlap municipalities. As it is, Avon is responsible for only a dozen miles of roads. Couldn't the county handle that duty – again saving taxpayers' money?

If we as a state really want to change the status quo, townships would be a really good place to start.

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