In 1848, Illinois voters in each county were given the right to organize townships. At that time, Illinois was mostly a farming state, and it was believed that townships would be more accountable to residents of rural areas.
In 1874, the Township Act specified the key functions of townships: 1) a general assistance program to qualifying residents; 2) to assess property for tax purposes; and 3) maintenance of township roads and bridges.
Township governments are created by voters in countywide ballot referendums and can be abolished the same way. But state law requires that all the townships in a county be dissolved simultaneously or not at all.
There are 102 counties in Illinois, and 85 have chosen to be divided into townships, making a total of 1,431 townships in Illinois. The 17 Illinois counties where townships don’t exist provide the three above mentioned services themselves.
Over the years, there has been radical shifts in demographics and advances in technology which perhaps makes township government unnecessary. There are strong arguments on both sides of the township government issue.
Pro: Township Officials of Illinois (TOI) is a private organization that currently represents most of the state’s 1,433 townships. TOI’s function is: the education of township officials; the promotion of township government; and lobbying on behalf of Illinois townships. They are the primary proponent of township government and have numerous articles on their web site promoting township government. According to TOI, “township government was, and is, intended to follow the will of the people and to respond to their needs. Township government today meets these criteria better and more effectively than any other form of local government.”
Con: Reboot Illinois is one of the organizations which believes that we should do away with township government — it is unnecessary and wasteful. Studies show that Illinois has more units of local government (which includes township governments) than any other state—by a margin of thousands. These Illinois townships tax 8 million people. The property tax is the townships’ major own-source revenue contributing 99.6 percent in 2002 and 99.9 percent in 2006. Townships should be abolished, with their functions assumed by cities and counties that can get the job done better, cheaper and more fairly. This paper clearly details the reasons for eliminating township government in Illinois.