MARC CHASE: Threat of secession a warning shot for townships

2013-05-21T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Threat of secession a warning shot for townshipsMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
May 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A collective groan could be heard from Calumet Township recently as a law opening the door for Griffith to leave the township took effect in Indianapolis. Though it might sound ominous to some, the groan has the potential to be the harmony of forced government reform.

Griffith has long sought to leave the township, largely because of out-of-control township government spending that Griffith officials don't believe is giving the town much of a bang for its buck. This has forced conditions of an unhappy marriage, and Griffith essentially is suing for divorce.

Meanwhile, Calumet Township has pushed to force Griffith to stay in this loveless relationship. Some status quo supporters proclaim Griffith's push to leave is based on racism, an ugly and inaccurate characterization of the true motivation.

Griffith officials haven't sought to leave because a larger percentage of their neighbors to the north have a different skin color. The numbers reveal the true catalyst toward secession.

The township's poor assistance tax rate is a whopping 22.64 times the state average, or about three times higher than the next highest township.

Griffith pushed for legislation in the most recent session to force the township into a more reasonable tax rate no more than 12 times the state average. The same bill also allows for an emergency manager to take over the township if the rate isn't reduced to that level by 2014. Griffith could leave the township if the rate isn't reduced to 12 times the state average by 2015.

And what about all the money in Calumet Township not being spent on helping the township's economically disadvantaged? It isn't racist to take issue with the township's admitted expenditure of about 43 cents of every dollar on administrative overhead versus poor relief.

Current Township Trustee Mary Elgin has taken some recent steps in the right direction, including handing over the keys to the township's costly ambulance service to a private entity. But it shouldn't stop there.

Now that the bill is law, Calumet Township must look at new ways to become leaner or face the prescribed consequences. Either way, Griffith wins.

So do taxpayers of the entire township, who might get to see more efficiency in a government body long tainted by waste and the unscrupulous actions of former Trustee Dozier Allen, who had his day in federal criminal court for fraud -- and lost.

The list of winners could extend well beyond the township -- and even the county.

If one municipality can force reform under threat of secession from a township, other municipalities could follow with legislation of their own -- or a more broadly written bill applying to all townships.

This is a warning shot over the bow that should be reverberating in townships throughout the state.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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