EDITORIAL: Calumet Twp. is poster child for reform

2013-01-13T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Calumet Twp. is poster child for reform nwitimes.com
January 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Most of Indiana's 1,008 townships have such small budgets and low visibility that many people don't even know what township they live in, much less what the township government's responsibilities are. And then there are statistical outliers like Lake County's Calumet Township.

It's a township where the poverty rate is so high -- 1 in 3 residents are below the federal poverty line -- that the demand for poor relief is high.

But this is a costly form of government. Bill Dolan's series in The Times last week brought it all into focus.

Over the 10 years of Calumet Township records Dolan studied, the township's taxpayers spent $45 million to administer $64 million in poor relief. That high percentage of overhead costs is embarrassing. If this were a nonprofit and not a government, donors would be loathe to contribute.

Trustee Mary Elgin has been cutting the cost of government, to be sure. She cut the township budget by nearly a quarter when she took office and has been paring it since. But when we talk about cutting the fat out of the budget, remember that this township was morbidly obese.

Each of the township board members, for example, is paid $25,000 a year. Notice we didn't say they earned it. The board is required by law to meet only a few times each year. 

The township also has eight take-home cars. Why?

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin has begun to pare the township expenses, including getting rid of the ambulance service, but there's a long way to go.

We have said before that the services provided by township government ought to be provided more efficiently. Calumet Township is a statistical anomaly, true, but this is the very situation that has prompted Griffith to appeal to the Indiana General Assembly for relief.

In previous years, Gov. Mitch Daniels put local government reform on his legislative agenda every year. Incoming Gov. Mike Pence should do likewise -- including a specific look at how to eliminate township government or force Calumet Township and others like it to operate more efficiently.

Start by eliminating those township board positions. Let the Lake County Council do that work instead, at no additional cost.

There's got to be a better way to deliver services, just as the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform and others have suggested. Calumet Township is spending way too much to administer poor relief -- money going to overhead rather than to actual services.

There needs to be a better way to fund this service, too. Limiting the tax burden to where poverty is concentrated is not the wisest strategy. 

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