EDITORIAL: Parking take-home cars a good first step in Calumet Township

2013-07-12T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Parking take-home cars a good first step in Calumet Township nwitimes.com
July 12, 2013 12:00 am

The Calumet Township trustee's office has taken some heat lately -- both locally and in the Indiana Legislature -- for perceived past and current wasteful spending practices and tax rates well beyond the state average for similar offices.

While some of that criticism is warranted, current township Trustee Mary Elgin deserves credit for beginning the process of trimming budget fat by parking four of her offices take-home cars this week.

Using public money to finance take-home cars for employees of the office smacked of wastefulness in this era of strapped government budgets -- and dwindling personal revenue of many taxpayers. Parking these cars was absolutely the right move.

Our congratulations is somewhat tempered, however, by the main motivation Elgin cited for doing away with the vehicles. Rather that conceding to fiscal responsibility, Elgin said she parked the cars hoping "it will abate the political noise surrounding these vehicles. I've taken enough heat over them."

Not withstanding the motivation, though, Elgin did the right thing. Now she needs to do a lot more of it.

Elgin has said her office must demand above-average tax rates because of declining property tax revenues and state laws mandating her assistance of many of the one in three township residents living below the poverty line. There's no doubt Elgin has her work cut out for her, facing major challenges in providing poor relief.

But the state has mandated that her office reduce its property tax rate to less than 12 times the average of the state's 1,008 townships.

There is good fiscal reasoning for this new state law. Calumet Township's tax rate is now 22.6 times larger than the state average, and a large portion of the township's budget has gone to administrative overhead and other expenses, not direct poor relief.

Parking the take-home cars was the right step, but more fat must be rendered for Elgin's office to meet the state's tax threshold. If it doesn't meet the parameters, the state's Distressed Unit Appeals Board could step in and force its own audit and cuts.

Such a failure also would open the gates to a pathway triggered by the same state law, allowing Griffith to secede from Calumet Township and join another township.

Calumet Township should use the parked take-home cars as a symbolic first step to more efficient government.

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