GRIFFITH — Griffith town leaders are sweetening the pot with a $1 million cash dowry, attempting to entice St. John Township into a marriage of local government units.
The offer, made to St. John Township leaders by the Griffith Town Council Tuesday night, is the latest attempt by the municipality to find a new township home after using a then-new state law allowing residents to vote to secede from Calumet Township last year.
Griffith has taken past runs at joining either St. John or North townships in Lake County, only to be rebuffed.
Initially, under state law, Griffith had a year to be accepted by a new adjoining township. But the Indiana Legislature recently extended Griffith's timeline by another year.
Now the town is upping its game in its latest offer to St. John Township.
“Griffith Town Corp. understands that St. John Township will be taking on additional costs if they accept the proposed township change. Therefore, due to the revenue disparity between North Township ... and St. John Township ... Griffith Town Corp is willing to work out an interlocal agreement, pending legal review, to give a one time and/or on-going amount of additional revenue to St. John Township," town leaders said in a formal proposal to St. John Township through Griffith's financial group.
The $1 million, in addition to any additional tax collections St. John Township would receive by adding Griffith, is intended to help offset any costs of the move, Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa told The Times.
The full council made its case at Tuesday's council meeting, with St. John Township officials in attendance.
"The Griffith Town Council appreciates that the St. John Township Board, the trustee and assessor have taken the time to meet with us tonight," a statement read at the meeting on behalf of the town council indicated.
"We understand that bringing Griffith into St. John Township can be a complicated and difficult decision. We have looked at ways to minimize or eliminate any financial risks to the township caused by unknown or unforeseen happenings.
"With that consideration, our attorneys in Indianapolis have been in contact with the Indiana DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance), and we are very comfortable offering St. John Township to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Griffith that would provide St. John Township with $1 million over the next five years."
Ryfa said Griffith taxpayers would realize more than $2 million in savings per year by being in St. John Township versus Calumet Township, and joining St. John versus North Township would mean half-a-million dollars less per year in taxpayer expense.
Griffith residents overwhelmingly voted to secede from Calumet Township in September 2018.
It followed the passage of a state law allowing the town to escape the exorbitantly high poor-relief tax rate of Calumet Township. It also followed several years of documented wasteful spending and public corruption associated with the Calumet Township trustee's office, including past felony convictions for crimes against the taxpayer.
Griffith Town Council Vice President Larry Ballah, R-2nd, thanked the township board for hearing their presentation.
"We're doing the best we can for our residents," Ryfa said.
The $1 million offer, and the payment schedule, can be negotiated, he added.
The meeting was attended by about 25 residents, including two people running for office and a former township board member. They were the only ones who spoke from the floor.
Former St. John Township board member John Brackins, who voted against Griffith's initial proposal last December, wondered how the property tax cap might hurt the township.
Brackins, who served as the township board's president last year, said that Griffith's $1 million offer was just for the short term.
Paul Panczuk, a Republican running for the St. John Town Council in next month's election, congratulated Griffith for doing so well. But he said he is thinking 20-30 years into the future and fears that St. John could find itself in the same township hot water as Griffith currently has with Calumet Township.
"I think it's a better fit" for them to join North Township or form its own township, he said.
Also running as a Republican for the St. John Town Council is Bryan Blazak, who echoed the others' concerns about the future.
It is hard to plan far into the future and Blazak, who also wished Griffith well, said it is not a good fit for St. John Township.
Griffith Councilman Tony Hobson, R-5th, replied that the town is not only offering the $1 million interlocal agreement to the township, but reminded everyone that Griffith would also be paying its way like other members of the township.
He also stressed that Griffith has a property tax collection rate of 95 percent and that Griffith's needs only total about $35,000 per year while the town would bring in almost $80,000 to the township.
"The numbers make sense," he said. "We're not looking for a free ride."
If Griffith is admitted as a member, St. John Township Assessor Debbie Walters said that every one of Griffith's 6,000 parcels would need to be physically visited and reassessed.
"It's going to be work," she said. "We're all going to be out in the field" going house to house.
She also noted that the township currently has about 17,000 parcels.
St. John Township Trustee Cathy Lareau also noted that Griffith's annual price tag for poor relief services received is about the same as the township's poor relief expenditure.
After the meeting, township board Chairman Lisa Williams Elder said the board might talk about Griffith's request in the future, but could not say if and when a vote will be taken — or even if a discussion will be on the October meeting agenda.