|Cunningham Township||205 W Green St||Urbana||IL||61801||217-384-4144|
Cunningham Township, a township coterminous with the City of Urbana, was founded in 1928. Administratively, Cunningham Township consists of two offices, both of which have historically been very active in ensuring equity among their residents. The administrative office of the Cunningham Township, led by the Township Supervisor, has regularly supported more clients through General Assistance and other low-income programs than have other local townships. The assessor’s office, meanwhile, has striven to maintain equitable assessment of property values within the city.
A township is an organized political subdivision of a county. Illinois counties began operating under the township model after the 1848 Illinois Constitution gave voters in each county the opportunity to adopt township government. Illinois townships are charged with three major duties: general assistance (GA) for the indigent, the assessment of real property for the basis of local taxation, and the maintenance of all roads and bridges outside federal, state, and other local jurisdiction. In addition, an 1849 law created a county board of supervisors, composed of township supervisors in a given county, which is the legislative body for the county. (Illinois Regional Archives Depository) Though the legislative function has since been repealed due to conflict-of-interest concerns, townships still have a vital role to play in Illinois. As of 2005, 85 of the 102 Illinois counties operated under the township form of government, making a total count of 1,433 townships. (Township Officials of Illinois)
On December 5th, 1928, the Urbana Township was split in two. The newly established Cunningham Township—named for the family of Judge J. O. Cunningham, an early Urbana family—encompassed the City of Urbana, while the remainder was kept as part of Urbana Township. (Fisher, 1963) The Cunningham Township administration soon began playing an active role in providing social services. In 1935, the township’s annual “pauper relief” appropriation was an impressive $65,150, $7,000 more than the larger Champaign Township’s total annual appropriation. (“Cunningham Township”) By fiscal year 1976, the two township’s GA expenditures were roughly equivalent: Cunningham Township had 56% of the population of Champaign Township, but was spending 91.5% of its counterpart’s GA allocation.
In the same year, Cunningham’s assessor’s office spent over twice as much as Champaign’s. Much of this expenditure was due to the appointment of several new deputy assessors and an increased effort to reappraise corporations’ properties. This push was less than welcome, causing 175 firms to complain to the county board of review, which is charged with maintaining uniformity in assessments. A battle ensued between the Republican board of review and the Democratic Cunningham assessor.
To this day, both taxes and social services expenditures for Cunningham Township are higher than for its counterparts, Champaign Township (outside the city limits of the City of Champaign), City of Champaign Township, and Urbana Township (outside the city limits of Urbana). For example, as of 2000, Cunningham Township spent roughly five times as much on GA as did Champaign Township, though Champaign's more extensive staff resources caused its GA administrative costs to exceed Cunningham’s 3-to-1.
Throughout its history, Cunningham Township has devoted itself to compassionate social service programs and fair property assessments. Though the township and its structure are not readily apparent to most Urbana residents, Cunningham Township continues to work towards greater equity in the City of Urbana.
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