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Future of Belleville Township in question; some officials say it's inefficient

(Courtesy of the City of Belleville)

The board of Belleville Township could soon be voting to dissolve itself.

Currently an Illinois township can only be dissolved by a referendum of the people and approval from surrounding townships, but a bill awaiting consideration by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner would allow the Metro East township’s elected officials to vote for dissolution instead.

 “The idea behind the legislation is that we would make sure that we don’t have duplicative services that have needless taxation on people so that we could still provide those services but do it in a much more effective and efficient manner,” said Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville).

Hoffman said he sponsored the bill in order to streamline the dissolution process.

“Anyone who’s run for office knows how difficult it can be to get the signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot,” he explained.

Asked his response to people who might want to vote for a change in the form of their government, Hoffman said voters do have a say.

“You elect the officials,” he said. “We’re a democratic form of government where we elect our elected officials and then they make determinations through their votes, just like I’m elected. Not everybody in my district votes on every issue that is taken up by the state. That’s the nature of our government.”

Belleville Township has just about the same boundaries as the city of Belleville, but it has a separate office with separate, salaried, elected officials. And it’s only responsibility is to provide temporary help to people waiting for state aid, a state-mandated program called General Assistance.

“There really is no significant function any longer for Belleville Township.  And yet it expends money on not only their buildings but also on salaries for individuals who are elected to the township board or the supervisor or the township clerk,” Hoffman said.   

Dallas Cook, Belleville Township’s clerk, agrees. Cook, who also serves as clerk for the city of Belleville, said the city could easily take on the responsibility of administering General Assistance, and if they did the only possible cost would be hiring an employee.

“The way our state runs itself currently, we have more layers and governmental entities than any other state in the country and it’s out of control,” Cook said. “The way I look at it is the whole state needs to consider every type of consolidation that’s possible. Because the money is out there it’s just we’re paying for all these different duplications. We’re paying for too much overhead and we have too many elected officials.”

According to its budget, Belleville Township’s six elected positions are paid a total of $32,000 a year and its two full-time caseworkers each make about $50,000 a year.

Last year the township dispensed about $200,000 in General Assistance and spent about $250,000 on salaries, operating costs and support of public programs such as senior services at the local college, according to its annual fiscal report.

“My realistic opinion on the amount of money that the taxpayers will save every year will be between $300,000 and $400,000 a year,” Cook said. “And with the large surplus that the township currently has, which is three-quarters of a million dollars, we can run this program for at least three years without taxing the people even one cent.”

Hoffman said that the township trustees he’s talked to seem supportive of dissolution. Dennis Korte, who makes $20,000 a year as Belleville’s elected township supervisor, told St. Louis Public Radio he wasn’t making any statements on the bill until Governor Rauner made a decision on the matter.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the governor has yet to receive the bill but that he is “supportive of local government consolidation and reform, because it helps give taxpayers a better value for their money.”

Assuming the bill becomes law, several steps would still have to take place before Belleville Township could dissolve. First the township’s board would have to vote for dissolution. Then the Belleville City Council would have to approve the dissolution and accept the township’s responsibility to provide General Assistance.

The earliest the Belleville Township could cease to exist is 2017, the end of term for the township’s currently elected officials.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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