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.


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)