INDIANAPOLIS | Griffith has won back the chance to leave Calumet Township, but only if the township fails to reduce spending on its own next year and a subsequent state takeover also fails.
On Tuesday, the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee changed House Bill 1585 by restoring Griffith's ability to hold a referendum on whether to leave Calumet Township and join another.
A different Senate panel this month removed that provision from the House-approved legislation.
However, before Griffith could hold the referendum, Calumet Township officials would have one year to bring its township assistance property tax rate, generally used to support poor relief, below 12 times the state average.
Calumet Township's current township assistance property tax rate is 20.47 times the state average. The next-highest township is 7.94 times the state average.
If Calumet Township does not reduce its spending, the revised measure allows the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board to automatically designate the township as “distressed” and appoint an emergency manager to essentially take over the township with broad powers to reduce spending.
If the emergency manager is not successful by 2015, then Griffith could hold a referendum on leaving the township.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, the sponsor of the legislation, said he believes the revised proposal is "a solution that will provide tax relief to all the people of Calumet Township."
The township, which includes portions of Griffith, Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County, spends more money on poor relief than any other township in the state. It also has more employees than every other township in Lake County combined.
The committee chairman, state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said Calumet Township's history of "persistent, pervasive mismanagement" of poor relief spending requires this unusual step to rein it in.
"This is so out of the order of magnitude of the spend in townships across the state of Indiana, it doesn't even sit in the same ballpark," Hershman said.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, asked the committee to not act in the hope that Calumet Township and Griffith might resolve their differences without legislative intervention.
"Give us some time to work this out and come up with something that neither side will be completely pleased with but both will be able to go on," Rogers said. "We've got a solution here that only Griffith is pleased with."
Hershman said there's no need to wait.
He said state lawmakers have already examined the issue in depth over the past two years and that if Rogers believes Griffith residents are happy with the legislation, he'll show her plenty of email messages proving otherwise.
The committee session ended bizarrely following the 9-2 vote to send the measure to the full Senate.
State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, who spent nearly an hour asking Griffith officials to explain basic tax law to him, stormed out of the room and slammed the door when other senators questioned why he was launching into another soliloquy instead of voting.