INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Senate has approved legislation, long sought by Griffith residents, limiting Calumet Township spending and giving Griffith a chance to leave the township if spending continues at current levels.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted 36-12 Thursday for House Bill 1585, with every Democrat except state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, voting no.
The measure now returns to the Republican-controlled House where the sponsor, state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said he's likely to agree with Senate changes to the proposal, which will send it directly to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for his signature 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 could then 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 Senate sponsor, state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said the legislation should finally put a stop to fraud, waste and mismanagement in Calumet Township, which spends $2.32 on administration to distribute each dollar in poor relief.
"I think this represents a measured solution to an ongoing problem, which we've attempted to address for the last several years," Hershman said.
However, state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, a former town attorney for Griffith, said there are better ways to resolve the dispute besides potentially redrawing political boundaries, which could confuse property descriptions.
"If we want to make a government entity do something, we have a lot of other ways to do it," Tallian said. "Changing township boundary lines is going to create collateral damage."
The most vocal opponent, state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, blamed an investigation by The Times for exposing Calumet Township's spending.