INDIANAPOLIS | It took six years of explaining, arguing and working around legislative roadblocks, but Griffith is now just a few pen strokes away from having a path to exit Calumet Township.
The Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted 62-26 to accept changes made by the Senate to House Bill 1585. That nearly party-line decision sends the legislation to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for him to sign into law or veto.
Under the plan, Calumet Township would have one year to reduce its township assistance tax rate used for poor relief programs to no more than 12 times the state average. It is currently 22.64 times the state average, a rate nearly three times greater than the next-highest township.
If the township does not reduce its assistance tax rate by 2014, the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board then could appoint an emergency manager to run the township, which includes parts of Griffith, Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County.
In 2015, if the township assistance tax rate remains above 12 times the state average, Griffith would be entitled to hold a referendum on leaving Calumet Township and joining another.
The passion that's fueled debate on the Griffith-Calumet Township issue was once again on display in the House chamber before the vote.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, the sponsor of the proposal, argued Griffith residents have, for too long, been forced to foot the bill for reckless township spending that isn't going toward poor relief but instead an excessive administrative staff that drives a dozen take-home cars and seemingly cannot be persuaded to reduce their spending.
"I do believe this is good public policy — giving people the flexibility and the opportunity to shop for better service," Slager said.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who described the legislation as among the worst of the year, and state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, both argued it's wrong to potentially redraw township boundaries because some residents are unsatisfied.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the House, it's Calumet Township today, but it could be you tomorrow," Brown said.
Griffith Town Council Vice President Rick Ryfa said, "I am very proud to represent the people of Griffith, and this would never have happened without their support.
"This is a victory for every Griffith citizen," said Ryfa, who initiated the quest in 2007.
Griffith Clerk-Treasurer George Jerome, who sat in the House chamber alongside Town Council President Glen Gaby during the vote, said afterward the goal isn't necessarily for Griffith to leave Calumet Township but to bring its spending in line with every other township in the state.
"If they're able to get their costs under control, whether it's this year or with the help of the DUAB, everyone wins," Jerome said.
Brown said it's likely Calumet Township will sue if the measure becomes law to see whether it runs afoul of the Indiana Constitution's prohibition on special laws that affect the operations a single township.