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Township Phaseout Could Achieve Quasi-Dissolution Without Binding Referendum

A binding referendum could land the city in legal trouble, but a transfer of powers might work.

When the advisory referendum for Evanston Township dissolution during the March 20 primary election, Evanston voters sent a clear message that they backed the change.

But due to the that might accompany a similar binding referendum, it is improbable such a vote will make the upcoming November ballot.

However, according to State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, a complete phase out of township services coupled with a wind down of its tax levy could accomplish the same goal.

City officials have explored the idea of dissolving the township in the hope that reduced office rental and personnel costs , but Evanston City Attorney Grant Farrar said in November that dissolution is no easy task because conflicting state laws leave room for judicial interpretation and could put the city at legal risk.

The township government currently levies , administers a general assistance program and assists residents with property tax assessments. The township‘s boundaries are coterminous with the city, and the Evanston City Council sits as the township’s board of trustees.

Unsure of what legal trouble the city might face with a binding referendum, the Evanston Township Board of Trustees asked Schoenberg to introduce state legislation that might eliminate any legal gray area and provide a more certain process for township dissolution.

Yet Schoenberg said in a Wednesday phone interview that there was little hope the legislation that he introduced would pass.

“The prospects for success of that legislation will always be very limited this session because there is very strong opposition from the Township Officials of Illinois, who are very influential statewide interest group,” Schoenberg said.

Instead, he suggested that the township board come to an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Evanston, transferring all its functions and powers to the city, while lowering its tax levy to nothing.

“The goal would be to have the township exist legally in name only,” Schoenberg said. “That would ensure a smooth transition. Now that the voters have spoken so decisively, we should put this alternative strategy on a fast track.”

Township Trustee and Evanston Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward) said that he was unsure what the township board would discuss at its April 10 annual meeting, but questioned what would happen to the township’s two paid elected officials without a tax levy.

Still, he said he thought the board needed to take a firmer stance in the near future.

“As trustees, we need to take a much stronger position and really look at where we compromise,” Tendam said, “even if we still are clicking toward dissolution.”

Sharon Eckersall March 30, 2012 at 06:07 PM
If you can recall a few meetings ago, I suggested at the Township Meeting to cut the budget so that the Township could not function. This would alleviiate the Township of all of the legal issues that could happen. When I was Evanston Township Assessor, the Trustees cut my budget so I had to fire my Deputy Assessor, hence, the lawsuit that transpired. The budget for 2012-2013 has to be voted upon by June 30, 2012. Now is their chance to do something.
Jim Osburn March 30, 2012 at 06:58 PM
What I don't understand is, if the functions of the Township must continue, personnel must do those functions and they must be somewhere (we are not all virtual yet), then where are the savings? Just appears to be an intramural power squable.
Jordan Graham March 30, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Hi Jim, The fact that the both municipalities are headed by the same people makes it unlikely that there is a power squabble, but those who opposed the referendum made the same point you did -- that the City of Evanston wouldn't be saving money because they would have to hire employees to do the work or that they would make a current employee/department take on the load and would not do as good a job. However, saving money on office space makes sense. Thanks for writing. Best, Jordan
Sharon Eckersall March 31, 2012 at 02:36 AM
The budget for the township expires on mar 31. They have until june 30 to approve a new budget operating on old budget.

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