Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Friday he is revisiting the prospect of Griffith joining North Township, an endorsement that would give the town a powerful ally in its bid to secede from Calumet Township.
In an appearance on WJOB radio, McDermott revealed he met with Griffith Town Councilman Rick Ryfa, R-3, on Thursday to discuss how to move forward with the plan.
North Township, which comprises Hammond, East Chicago, Whiting, Highland and Munster, rejected Griffith’s request to join in December.
At the time, McDermott was a prominent opponent of the move, pointing to an ongoing feud between Hammond's and Griffith’s high school sports programs. The North Township board ultimately voted 3-0 against the proposal.
“I felt like we were pressed for time (last year),” McDermott told WJOB host Kevin Smith, saying he wasn’t ready to take on the issue during a busy holiday season.
McDermott appeared to change his tune Friday, praising Griffith as a town that could make a positive addition to North Township. He stopped short of publicly endorsing Griffith’s accession, however.
“Griffith and Hammond have a lot in common,” McDermott said, noting his daughter lives in Griffith and that its downtown is something Hammond should strive to emulate.
North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said there are several crucial factors to consider for the sake of the township residents.
"While Mayor McDermott is a valued opinion, this decision is ultimately up to the North Township board and trustee," Mrvan said.
Mrvan said the board is taking North Township residents into account first and foremost, especially in light of homeowner taxes and the social services the township provides.
"We want to make sure we are not hurting a senior citizen in Munster who is trying to use the Dial-A-Ride to get to a doctor's appointment because we are over-stretching our programs," Mrvan said.
Dial-A-Ride is one of the services North Township provides that gives a free curb-to-curb bus service for residents needing transportation to and from medical appointments, shopping and other activities.
Griffith has been trying to complete its divorce from Calumet Township since its residents voted overwhelmingly to secede in September. The secession vote was prompted by widespread discontent among Griffith residents over the city’s paltry return on poor services versus the amount of tax money it sends to the township each year.
Last year, Griffith sent more than $2 million in property taxes to the township but received about $31,000 in poor relief services. By joining North Township, the town can expect to save a combined $500,000 for government and schools, while allowing taxpayers to retain $1 million in property taxes, according to Ryfa, who is spearheading the secession effort.
“Griffith residents don’t mind being a donor community,” Ryfa told The Times, referring to the fiscal relationship with Calumet Township and its other member, Gary. “But we want the money to be spent wisely.”
As for McDermott, Ryfa was confident Griffith would have the influential mayor’s support as the town makes its case to other municipal leaders.
“It was agreed between the two of us that he would support Griffith moving into North Township,” Ryfa said.
Mrvan said while the board has their reservations based on the impacts the move would have on current township residents, he is open to future discussion.
"Consistently in my career, I have built bridges, not walls," Mrvan said. "I will gladly listen to a professional presentation from the town of Griffith that thoroughly addresses the fiscal impacts and the relief services needed by the town, and if we can find a common ground, then great."