DOUG ROSS: Two responses to legacy of government excess

2014-02-21T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Two responses to legacy of government excessBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Even as Chicago and Illinois talk about their legacy costs, meaning overly generous public pensions, Gary and Calumet Township are dealing with their own legacy of past poor decisions.

In her 2013 State of the City address, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson tried to put a good spin on the city, but she began by acknowledging what she inherited when she took office.

"Shortly after our first day, a number of federal agencies set meetings to tell us that the city was out of compliance with a variety of rules and regulations," the mayor said.

"At the Gary Sanitary District, representatives of the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management convened to talk about the Clean Water Act and convince me that I could not do what others had attempted to do for 20 years. At the Gary Housing Authority, HUD arrived to announce that they were prepared to take over the agency because our vacancy rate was too high and our waiting list too long," she said.

Some mayors' ideas of turning their cities around amounts to fine-tuning compared to what Freeman-Wilson faces with Gary. But she's working on it.

To her credit, she's also recruiting help. In this year's State of the City address, she had a strong message to those who sit on the sidelines instead of pitching in to help the city.

"What are you going to do?" she asked on Wednesday. "Will you continue to place side bets or do your part to get in the game?"

That's an inspiring attitude. How very different from what's happening with Calumet Township.

Township Advisory Board member Clorius Lay sued Trustee Mary Elgin to stop her from allowing certain employees to take home township-owned cars.

Elgin said there haven't been any take-home cars since she ordered four 2004 Ford Taurus cars parked last July amid criticism of township spending.

But why did the township have take-home vehicles in the first place? 

Even as Elgin contends with Lay's lawsuit, she has filed one of her own. Elgin is suing Gov. Mike Pence in federal court to stop enforcement of a 2013 state law that requires the township to reduce the property tax rate supporting poor relief to less than 12 times the state average.

The township's tax rate has been as high as 22.6 times the state average for townships.

Calumet Township's administrative costs are 37 percent of of the total budget. Would you give money to a charity with overhead costs that high?

If Calumet Township doesn't bring its spending under control, it could lose Griffith, a major portion of its tax base.

It's fascinating, and instructive, to see how Freeman-Wilson and Elgin are responding to the legacy of excessive government spending. Freeman-Wilson is being creative in getting others to partner with the city on big projects while cutting city spending. Elgin has been cutting township spending since she took office, but she's giving up too soon.

It isn't easy, it isn't painless, but those cuts have to be made anyway. 

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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