Tom Cavanagh: Township-county merger will save money, improve services

Capital Township residents, when asked, “Shall Capital Township pursue a full merger with Sangamon County?” voted 74% to 26% in favor of a full merger. Some politicians are now saying that the voters didn’t know what they were doing. I think they clearly understood that a full merger will achieve better delivery of service and reduce taxes. They agreed with $685,000 in savings and a reduction in the township tax rate by 26%. But now some local legislators think that what voters really want is more paid politicians.

I served as Sangamon County Treasurer for 16 years and as such was the de facto Capital Township Supervisor. I have a proven record on government efficiency. For example, in 2015 I advocated for the elimination of the township tax collectors in Sangamon County, a policy change that has come to fruition under the leadership of Representative Tim Butler. In 2016 I approached Sangamon County leadership and proposed a merger of Capital Township with Sangamon County.

The effort by some local Democrats to dramatically increase the number of elected officials in Capital Township mocks township residents’ overwhelming referendum vote. This push for more political jobs ignores the current bipartisan, statewide trend to reduce layers of local government.

Some local democrats argue that Capital Township voters are disenfranchised, but that is simply not accurate. Policy matters in Capital Township involve the elected township trustees who are required to be residents of Capital Township. Trustees set policy and approve budgets and tax levies.

Some local legislators have said that township voters didn’t know what they were doing when they voted to fully merge with the county. People do not lose their ability to read when they enter the voting booth, and I trust what the voters did. I think they knew exactly what they were doing. Sangamon County has a successful record of improving services and saving taxpayers’ money. The mergers of election offices, dispatch centers and public health departments have saved more than $18 million since enacted.

Some argue that if there is a merger, Capital Township should instead be merged with the City of Springfield, even though the boundaries are not the same. That argument ignores the fact that Sangamon County and Capital Township have been largely merged for more than 112 years, via state statute.

Following the voters’ directive the township trustees approved a contract with the county to administer general assistance programs and to consolidate services at the county’s Public Health building. This created a convenient “one-stop” shop for constituents, combining township and county services and the SIU health clinic all in one, easy-to-access, location. This merger of services has already saved approximately $270,000 annually and reduced the township tax rate.

In contrast, merging the township with the city would eliminate the tax cap limitations protecting township taxpayers, and allow the city of Springfield to raise your taxes in a new way.

Fortunately there is a better option. Representative Tim Butler’s legislation allows township voters the option to fully merge with Sangamon County, if they wish. A full merger would save an additional $485,000. Unfortunately, his legislation is being blocked by some legislative democrats who feel they know better than township residents.

This contrast is stark.

Legislators Turner and Sherer would take an additional estimated $300,000 out of the pockets of township taxpayers to pay salaries for more new politicians, or redirect the $300,000 away from vital general assistance.

Representative Butler’s proposal would give township residents the option, if they wish, to vote to fully merge with Sangamon County, improve services and save an additional $485,000.

To me, the choice is easy and the people have told us what direction they would like us to go.