Griffith town officials claimed an overwhelming victory Tuesday night in their fight for secession from Calumet Township.
When all was said and done, 97.2 percent of voters (3,290) voted to secede from the township. Just 70 voters (or 2.8 percent) voted to stay, according to the final unofficial totals reported to the Griffith Town Hall by poll workers.
Those numbers should become official within 10 days.
Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa announced to an applauding crowd in the council meeting room, "The referendum has passed."
"We thought maybe 85 percent was a goal and this morning we thought we might hit 90 percent, but to win the approval of almost 98 of every 100 people voting is incredible.
"This isn't a Town Council victory. This is a citizens' victory, a victory for all of those who stood by us all those years. Its victory and onward and find a township that will accept us."
The town now must begin courting neighboring Ross, North and St. John townships to find a new home. Ryfa said they hoped to accomplish this before the end of 2018 because state and federal election laws would forbid such a transfer a year before the 2020 national census.
The county election board was still waiting for poll workers to deliver numbers from all the town's precincts for a final unofficial canvas.
Kevin Smith, chairman of the county election board, said it appeared voter turnout in Griffith was well over the 18 percent reported in the last municipal election in 2015.
If fact, voter turnout was at 28 percent.
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While Griffith isn't moving geographically, it no longer wants to be part of Calumet Township, which includes the city of Gary, where a large percentage of the population lives below the poverty line and requests township aid.
Ryfa said Griffith property owners have been paying more than $2.1 million annually to the township and get little in return.
Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson has disputed that. Her office reported last year it only provides $1.3 million in direct assistance to fewer than 1,800, a significant decrease in township support from previous administrations.
Griffith town officials lobbied the General Assembly for a 2013 state law that permits a referendum if a trustee’s township assistance tax rate exceeds the statewide average tax rate by 12 times.
Robinson sued to stop the referendum last year, but the courts recently cleared the way for a special election.
Voters at several town polling places told The Times they supported the secession of the town from Calumet Township, saying they thought Griffith was paying more than its fair share of Calumet Township's poor relief assistance.
Ryfa said he will now ask town vendors for a financial analysis of the impact on Griffith residents for a move to each of the three potential township suitors. He said that will be made public at the Oct. 2 Town Council meeting.
Michael Ball, the town's Democratic Party chairman, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the people who voted to move the town out of Calumet Township are racists, despite his opposition to the move.
Ball said a number of residents he has spoken to in the past about the referendum have given the reason they don't want to help black Gary residents, but he didn't want to imply everyone in town had that motive.
Despite concerns about last-minute preparations for the election Monday and some technical glitches, Ball said Democrats had all precincts open for voting early Tuesday.