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Thornton Township residents approve financial reports, ask for better access to information

Electors at the Thornton Township annual meeting Tuesday, April 9, approved the financial reports for the 2024 fiscal year and set the date for the next annual meeting. A number of electors also urged the township administration to make the financial reports more accessible in the future.

The area of Homewood east of Western Avenue and north of 183rd Street is part of Thornton Township. Residents who wish to vote at the township annual meeting must register at the beginning of the meeting to receive a voting card, which they hold up to cast their votes.

Electors hold up their cards to vote during Thornton Township’s annual meeting on April 9. Reporters recording the meeting were required by security guards to stay in a cordoned-off area in the back of the room. This is a photo of one of the TV monitors at the front of the room. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

After electing former township employee Stephanie Wiedeman to moderate the meeting, electors approved the minutes of the 2023 annual meeting.

Finance Director Robert Hunt of Homewood read aloud reports summarizing the financial status of the General Assistance Fund, the General Fund and the Road and Bridge Fund.

The General Assistance Fund had a surplus of $4.2 million as of Feb. 29. Of the fund’s $11.2 million in revenue, the biggest source was real estate taxes, $8.1 million, followed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodities payments, $2.2 million.

Of the fund’s $7 million in expenses, the food pantry cost the most at $3.9 million, followed by administrative expenses at $2.97 million.

The fund’s balance as of Feb. 29 was $13.3 million.

The General Fund had an ending fund balance of nearly $11.6 million, with revenues of $18.5 million, expenses of $12.4 million for a surplus on the year of $6.1 million.

The biggest expense was the Administration Division at $4.3 million followed by the Youth Services Division at $2.1 million. The biggest source of revenue was taxes at $10 million followed by various fees, refunds, donations and other sources totaling $7.7 million.

Thornton Township Finance Director Robert Hunt reads one of three financial reports at the annual meeting April 9. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The Road & Bridge Fund brought in $1.1 million with more $826,000 from real estate and replacement taxes. Expenses totaled nearly $735,000. The fund had a surplus for the year of about $378,000.

Several electors told the administration that they found it difficult to keep all the numbers straight after hearing the reports read aloud once. They suggested the township make copies available at the meeting and post the reports on the township website in advance next year.

The reports were available several days prior to the meeting in the clerk’s office, but only one elector stated that she had obtained copies and had a chance to review the reports. She asked about a $1.17 million expense in the Administration Division, and Hunt clarified that it is an annual payment on a $5 million loan taken out last year. He said the plan is to pay the loan back in four more years.

After a motion was made and seconded to approve the General Fund Report, one elector requested the vote be postponed until the next meeting, giving electors time to review and consider the reports before approving them.

Wiedeman pointed out that the next annual meeting would be in April 2025, and township attorney Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski noted that failure to approve the reports until next year could impact the ability of the township to operate. She also noted that reading the reports at the annual meeting complies with requirements under state law.

After another motion was attempted that would have postponed the vote and some debate, the motions to postpone were walked back, the vote was taken, and the General Fund report was approved.

Before the vote, one elected suggested the financial reports be made available online in the future, and another suggested the information about when the reports would be available from the clerk’s office be added to the agenda when it’s posted.

“We’re standing behind what the law says, but why don’t we try to make it easier for the citizen?” he said.

Before the vote, Nelson-Jaworski advised electors that the purpose of the vote is to confirm the reports have been presented and does not indicate everyone agrees with the numbers. She directed electors to the state comptroller’s office website to view the township’s audit reports.

Following the approval of the reports, during the opportunity for trustees to make comments, Trustee Chris Gonzalez said he agreed with residents who wanted the financial reports to be more convenient to obtain in advance of the meeting.

He has for some time voted against approving financial reports at regular board meetings because he says the information is not available until he arrives at the meeting, giving him no time to review the reports before voting.

The next annual meeting will be at 6:01 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, 2025.

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