EDITORIAL: Calumet Township needs strict fiscal diet

2014-02-03T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Calumet Township needs strict fiscal diet nwitimes.com
February 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Calumet Township is alleging racial discrimination in its lawsuit over Griffith's attempt to withdraw from the township or to get Calumet Township to reduce its spending. Overwhelmingly black Gary and predominantly white Griffith are the only two municipalities in the township.

What Griffith officials are really concerned about, though, is the high tax rate.

Calumet Township's tax rate for poor relief was more than 22 times the state average last year.

Township Trustee Mary Elgin and Dwight Gardner, of Gary, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Hammond to challenge the constitutionality of the 2013 law that addresses the situation in Calumet Township.

Under that law, the township must reduce the millions of dollars paid each year to provide emergency shelter, rent, mortgage payments, transportation, utilities, health care, food and burial services to tens of thousands of residents.

If the property tax rate for that poor relief doesn't drop below 12 times the state average, Griffith would be able to hold a referendum to secede from the township.

The township has been cutting, having laid off more than 150 employees since 2003. But there's still a long way to go to reach the threshold set by state law.

Griffith officials say their taxpayers pay more than $1.7 million a year for the township but receive less than $11,000 back in services.

The very nature of taxes assumes a redistribution of wealth. But the smaller the pool, the heavy the burden can be on individual taxpayers.

In Gary, more than 1 in 3 residents live below the official poverty line, thus the burden falls on Griffith, where poverty is much less common.

Ideally, poor relief would be considered a state responsibility so the burden would be distributed across all Hoosier taxpayers, the same as for other common welfare programs. But we're not living in that ideal world.

The answer should be simple for Calumet Township officials — cut spending to comply with state law, which still allows the township to charge a tax rate nearly 12 times the average for Indiana townships.

We understand there is concentrated poverty in the township, but the township should provide emergency relief, not long-term assistance.

This is a matter of dollars and sense, not racism as the Calumet Township lawsuit contends.

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