Calumet Township, Griffith will duke it out again in General Assembly

2013-01-09T00:00:00Z 2013-01-09T17:37:05Z Calumet Township, Griffith will duke it out again in General AssemblyBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Secede is too strong a word for what the town of Griffith wants to do to Calumet Township.

Instead, Griffith will lobby for legislation to reorganize the town and the township trustee's office so they can "go their separate ways," Griffith Town Councilman Rick Ryfa said last week.

Last year, town officials said they wanted to secede from Calumet Township and form their own township to escape the heavy tax burden the township trustee's $10.2 million budget is expected to impose on Griffith homeowners and businesses.

Ryfa said 85 percent of those homes are paying the maximum amount of property taxes allowed under the state's tax caps because tax rates are the highest in the state to support township assistance for the many township residents who live below the poverty line, primarily in the city of Gary.

"We anticipate submitting two or three bills this January. We need serious, permanent relief, not just something on paper. A large percentage of those will come down," Ryfa said.

Ryfa declined to detail the legislative proposals until they are publicly introduced, but did say, "We aren't saying secede anymore. We are asking for reorganization."

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin said, "We hear the rhetoric. They need to change the atmosphere so we don't have that noise coming from those who are not that familiar with Calumet Township and made no effort to find out the hardships the people of Calumet Township are going through and not just those in Gary, but also those in Griffith and the unincorporated area, too. They all come here."

Elgin said her office cut its budget by $4 million for this year to appease Griffith concerns. Curtis Whittaker, a financial consultant for Elgin, said county officials have confirmed that Griffith's taxes recently rose because of school spending, not the township.

Elgin said, "We have explained this to Griffith over and over."

However, the township may have to take its case to the General Assembly as well.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, a downstate Republican and floor leader said, "If you look at (Calumet's) per capita spending on poor relief, it is outrageous. Anytime you have a number that's far out of the ordinary, it bears scrutiny."

Hershman said efforts last year to pass a law to cap Calumet Township's spending foundered on the impact such a law would have on other government units.

"But I haven't throw up my hands. Anytime the system is being abused, it cries out for a solution. My challenge to Calumet Township officials and Griffith and Northwest Indiana delegation last year was that they solve their own problems," Hershman said.

"We wanted to give them some breathing room to do that, but if they can't or won't, we will provide a solution for them."

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