Illinois township government: What exactly is the point?

Posted Online: Jan. 09, 2013, 2:46 pm
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By Frank Mullen III
I pay taxes in a small Midwestern city. In return, I get a street full of potholes and endless discussions about potholes by a city council whose meetings, when they become particularly heated, are known as "Aldermania."

I pay county taxes. My money pays for the courthouse, which provides birds with high nesting places, and schools, which provide football.

I also pay state income tax. In Illinois, this is the financial equivalent of throwing dollar bills into funnel clouds, but at least I'm helping to provide jobs in prison laundries for ex-governors.

And, of course, I pay income tax to the federal government. This rewards me with political entertainment that makes Aldermania look like a funeral home visitation.

I pay way too much to each of these entities, but at least I know what I'm getting. So here's my question: what are Midwestern townships for? What do I get for my township taxes that I can't get at Casey's or Farm and Fleet?

The New York township in which I was raised is home to 300,000 people whose taxes buy them beaches, parks, sewers, highway maintenance and public housing. A typical township in the Midwest has 300 residents, counting livestock and visiting family, and, as far I can tell, provides only one thing: a place to vote. On election day, a township employee unlocks your township garage and puts up a "Polling Place" sign. In other words, you vote to see who will get paid to open up the garage so you can vote.

But beyond providing the opportunity to vote your brother-in-law into a government job, I can't imagine what the point of townships is. I've asked a number of people, and none have a sensible answer. They just stand there with question marks, exclamation points and asterisks circling over their heads. Some have said that I should stop asking so many questions and just be grateful that the roads get plowed.

This is much like having a friend who tries to convince you to worship some god you've never heard of, let's say the Great Bwah-ha. Baloney, you say -- you have no evidence for the Great Bwah-ha's existence and can't name one single thing Bwah-ha has ever done for you. Your friend then tells you that every single good thing that has ever happened to you is the work of Bwah-ha, and that Bwah-ha has limited tolerance for non-believers, so you really should get down on your knees and be thankful.

We have enough governments without throwing townships into the stew. Just to get to deliver a Hefty bag of dandelions to the city dump, I have to take a few city streets, get on the state highway, drive through the county and putter down a series of roads that are maintained by the county, the township or, for all I know, the Duke of Wellington. It makes me pity the poor people of Liechtenstein, who have to travel through six German federated states just to take a swim in the North Sea, and believe me, they know about taxes in Germany.

While I have not yet been elected to public office -- the prayers of the people are answered -- I have proposed legislation that will lower our taxes. The Township Reduction Act reads, "All township employees shall spend the first week of February in Miami. If nobody notices, the township shall be eliminated.

If it doesn't pass, I guess I'll apply for a job in my township. I'm qualified; I spent 13 years in the Navy, and nobody knew what I was doing.
Frank Mullen III of Aledo is a former Navy band leader.


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1889 -- 125 years ago: The George Fleming company had begun its dried fruit packing in a branch plant on 16th Street, Rock Island, employing nearly a hundred workers.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The cornerstone of the new Eagles home was laid. Building committee members were John Kobeman, Fred Ehmke and Frank Wich.
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