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STOCK_Griffith Town Hall

Griffith Town Hall

GRIFFITH — With annual payments to Calumet Township almost doubling, the Town Council said it hopes for a secession vote sometime this summer.

The focal point, as usual, is the township's assistance budget and its comparison to the state's other 1,003 townships.

Also at issue is the annual funding Griffith is forced to contribute to the township.

Years ago, the town sent as much as $3.2 million per year to the township while receiving no more than $15,000 in services in return.

These payments started to shrink as the town began its secession drive.

"A few years ago we were sending about $1 million per year to the township after the (state) law we got passed took effect. In 2017 that number rose to $1.42 million," Town Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd, said on Tuesday. "And for 2018, the amount Griffith sends Calumet Township is now almost $2 million. I saw the numbers today and almost fell off my chair."

The state law, passed several years ago, said any community — within a township with an assistance budget more than 12 times the state average — can hold a referendum on whether to secede from that township and join another.

Griffith said the township has far exceeded that limit over the past couple years, but a 2016 lawsuit filed by the township has stalled the town's effort to hold the referendum.

The suit, which challenges the use of the actual budget numbers, recently went to the Indiana Appellate Court, which essentially tossed it out, Ryfa said, adding that Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court last week.

But Griffith said the township is again over the limit this year, according to numbers from the Department of Local Government Finance.

Using the actual, official numbers, calculations show the township to be 29.7 times over the state assistance average, Ryfa said.

Even if weighted numbers are used — which the township said is the right method to use — the township is 17.9 times over the limit, he said.

"The entire argument the township has made has become moot," he said.

As a result, Ryfa said the town will ask the Lake County Elections Board to schedule the referendum as soon as possible — hopefully during the summer.

In the meantime, the town will continue to collect residential signatures to request the referendum.

In that light, helpers will be at the Central Park Market for the next couple of Fridays to collect signatures from 4 to 8 p.m.

Ryfa added that Griffith will file its own response to the Supreme Court and there should be no avenue remaining for the township to stop the secession.

Attending Tuesday's council meeting was Calumet Township Board Member Darren Washington, who offered sympathy for the town's plight.

"I want to apologize" for the way the town has been treated because the township includes both Gary and Griffith, he said. "Griffith has literally been ignored for a long time."

Washington said he is committed to working with Griffith as long as it is part of the township.

He also suggested monthly township meetings should alternate between Gary and Griffith, "so that your voices can be heard."

Despite Griffith's lack of township representation over the years, Washington said he believes things can still be worked out.

"I believe it can turn around," he said.

Ryfa said the town would welcome township meetings in Griffith, and that the first and third Mondays of each month would be available.