The Township Officials of Illinois have commissioned a study arguing that abolishing townships would cost taxpayers more money -- because townships are municipal sweatshops that pay their employees less than cities or counties.
The principal driving force in local government expenditures is employee compensation.
Townships keep costs low by controlling payroll expense. The share of part-time staff in townships is six times that of cities and 40% more than in villages. A similar relationship exists in each of the six Chicagoland area counties.
In the road function, where, statewide, townships, municipalities and the state provide the same service (though it is on different roads and thus not duplicative), townships wages per employee are the lowest.
Since townships have small, part-time staffs, their employees are less likely to unionize and make financial demands on taxpayers.
The study includes a chart showing that per capita spending is $364 in municipalities under 1,000 people, while it’s $619 in municipalities over 250,000. Needless to say, they also have far less debt per capita -- in Illinois, $0 vs. $4,898.
According to data from the Illinois Comptroller's office, 51% of township employees were part-time in 2010. Villages also relied substantially on part-time employees, who represent 37% of their combined workforce. In the cities, only 8% of the workforce is part-time employees (Figure 13). 14
The lower salaries of local governments types that rely more on part-time labor is illustrated in Figure 14. In 2010, it is estimated that Chicagoland area municipalities paid wages averaging $77,700 per full-time equivalent employee. This is more than 50% higher than the $48,400 paid by townships in the Chicagoland area.
However, lower employee costs are not considered savings if you have more employees than you would with a consolidation. The Daily Herald surveyed 50 township road commissioners in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, and found they earned an average of $67,285. If they were all replaced with six county road commissioners, each earning $130,000, the savings would be substantial. The study also does not address the quality of work that township staffs perform. Yes, part timers are cheaper, but they are not as well-trained or professional as full-time employees.
I’m sure there are politicians who would like to preserve townships as a bulwark against the power of public employee unions. But we could save money by abolishing them all.