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Let’s go to town on cutting wasteful township governments

Main Street in Belleville is filled with local businesses. The township government has been eliminated and its duties taken over by the city.| Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Township governments are mostly a waste of money. Republican or Democrat, we can agree on that, right?

Group hug, everybody. Let’s go get ’em.

There was a time, maybe back when Pa was building Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little house on the prairie, when township governments had a lot to do, paving roads and running schools and the like. But as cities and towns took over those responsibilities, township governments found themselves with much less to do. They looked for new ways to justify their existence, usually not well.


Most township governments could disappear tomorrow, their limited duties assumed by other governments, or they could be combined with other township governments, and only you the taxpayer would notice. You’d keep more of your money. A good piece of legislation that would allow such mergers and dissolutions was approved by the Legislature this spring and awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature. It is precisely the sort of greater efficiency in government the governor has called for.

An excellent example of a township government we are happy to see gone is Belleville. The city of Belleville took over the township’s meager responsibilities in May after a long legal fight. No government dies without a fight.

But Belleville Township, which has virtually the same border as the city, was doing nothing but handing out community grants and giving aid — up to $245 a month in discount store gift cards and rental assistance — to just 45 people a month. A couple of people a day stopped by the township’s offices. It was a quiet place.

Now the city of Belleville will assist those 45 people instead, at less cost. The city hired two part-time employees to replace two full-time township employees, each of whom were being paid more than $50,000 a year. The city also rented extra space.

If every township government that serves so little purpose were dissolved in just the same way, we would take that deal. Good government groups have been campaigning for this reform for decades. But the Belleville News-Democrat groused in an editorial that it was a waste of money for the city to even hire two part-time workers and rent space. The city’s existing staff, the paper said, could have handled the extra “few duties.”

We suspect this is true, though others would know better. But we loved the way the News-Democrat made its point, in an editorial fashioned as a prayer. Here’s part it :

“Belleville Township is my shepherd; I shall not bleat.

“It maketh 45 people a month to depart with gift cards: it costeth me $18 a year in property taxes.

“It restoreth its own undead soul: it leads me down the primrose path for its employees’ sake.

“Yea, though Monday it walked through the valley of the shadow of death, it will fear no end: for thou art with Belleville; thy rent and thy staff continue costing me.”

To which we can only add: “Amen.”