By voice votes, Milton Township voters at the April 10, 2012 annual township meeting affirmed the current structure of Milton Township government. Two proposals for advisory referenda, one to cut the township budget by 20%, and another to eliminate the township altogether, were defeated by a large enough margin that proponents did not seek a recorded vote. Thus, neither will appear on the November ballot. Nearly 300 people attended the meeting, which filled the auditorium at the Wheaton Park District community center to standing room only capacity.
My unscientific observation is that many attendees at the meeting were residents of unincorporated areas of the Township, and they seem satisfied with the current operations of the Township and the services they receive.
My on the relative cost efficiency of township government versus other forms of government has provoked many comments. Township government and its efficiency, or lack thereof, is under fire from a variety of quarters - the Better Government Association has made this a cause. Interestingly, the BGA study uses "cost per mile" as an appropriate yardstick for highway operations - which some posters have criticized me for doing in my column.
But I believe the most important questions for any government body are whether it is responsive to those it serves, and whether it provides services in a cost effective manner. I can't speak for every township in the state, or even in DuPage County. But the answer for Milton Township is yes to both questions, and I think this is why the proposals were defeated.
It's easy to complain about the number of units of local government that exist and propose arbitrarily eliminating some of them. I could name a few. But there are only two ways this helps taxpayers. Either you eliminate the services the government body provides, or you find another government body (or private enterprise) to do them more efficiently. From any of the township opponents, I have not seen specific figures to show that Milton Township operations could be turned over to the County, or somewhere else, and result in lower costs and better services.
Certainly there are economies of scale in government, like anything else. Figures presented at the meeting relating to highway costs show a wide variation among DuPage County's nine townships, but Milton Township has the lowest cost per mile of the nine. It also has the most miles of township roads; the townships with the fewest miles have the highest per mile costs.
But at some point, bigger government gets more bureaucratic and inefficient, and less responsive, as local control and accountability are lost. DuPage County shares about 45 miles of boundaries with Cook County. Yet we maintain a separate forest preserve, county board, court system, recorder, coroner, sheriff, jail, transportation department, et cetera. Who's for dissolving DuPage County and annexing to Cook County, to end this duplication? Didn't think so.
One area where government consolidations have occurred with some frequency is school districts. But the Chicago Tribune looked at school district consolidations and found that, whatever other benefits might accrue, they did not save money; in fact, spending kept pace with state averages or went up. Does this mean any consolidation is a bad idea? No, but it has to be done on a case by case basis, and the financial benefits and operational efficiencies, if any, need to be clear.
One thing unique to township government is direct democracy - every year, any township resident can show up at the annual meeting, speak, and vote on township operations. Thanks to all who attended, whatever your viewpoint.