RICH JAMES: Griffith offers wrong answer on Calumet Twp.

2013-01-23T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Griffith offers wrong answer on Calumet Twp.Rich James Times Columnist nwitimes.com
January 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I can’t believe Griffith is at it again, wanting to break away from Calumet Township.

Councilman Rick Ryfa and the rest of the Republican Town Council remind me of the kid who didn’t like the way the game was being played so he took his ball and went home.

The bottom line is that Griffith residents are being heavily taxed to provide public assistance, but aren’t getting much in return.

A recent series by Times reporter Bill Dolan looked deep into the operation of the Calumet Township trustee’s office, which annually doles out millions to the needy for food, clothing, rent, heat and a variety of other essentials needed to sustain life.

What Dolan found was that 43 percent of the trustee’s budget goes for administrative costs. That’s shameful and is, in part, what has Ryfa and friends wanting to secede from the union. But pulling out really solves nothing.

Actually, the trustee’s office operates much more efficiently than when Elgin took over in 2003 from Dozier T. Allen. The number of employees has been slashed from 230 to 82.

Still, there is waste. Each of the three township board members is paid $25,000 a year. That’s grand theft.

Despite what Ryfa and others think of Elgin, many residents are destitute. And you can bet most of the 20,000 people who left Gary over the last decade weren’t on public assistance. Many of those who remain need help.

Why Gary has sunk to where it is can be debated for days. The decline of steel and other industries, white flight and racism are contributing factors.

Yet too many receive township help for too long. They ought to be a part of the welfare system, which used to be financed by county residents but was taken over by the state a few years back. That saves Lake taxpayers more than $100 million a year.

Griffith isn't talking secession this year — at least, not yet — but is doing an end run to divorce its tax rate from Calumet Township. Same song. Different tune.

The answer is clear, but difficult. As recommended by the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform in 2007, public assistance should be taken over by the county. It’s not fair to financially punish a township’s residents because they live in a pocket of depression.

Is politics at work here as well? Oh my, yes, just as it was when Ryfa and company figuratively stood at the town limits a couple years ago and blocked Planned Parenthood from moving from Gary to Griffith. Such compassion.

Griffith was wrong then and wrong now. But the town has a point about poor relief. Hopefully someone is listening, like the legislators we elected to fix a wrong.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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