GRIFFITH — The winner of the decade-long battle to leave Calumet Township rests within the court system — but the question is, which court?
The township wants the case to be heard in Lake County Superior Court, which is where its 2016 lawsuit was originally filed to try to block the secession effort.
The town wants the case to be heard in the Indiana Tax Court, which is where it was transferred in 2017 by the Superior Court at Griffith's request.
A third court, the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis, is being asked to decide which of these two courts should hear the case.
"We've got several months before we're probably going to pursue filing a petition in order to get a referendum," said Town Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd.
The town originally scheduled the referendum in 2016 to let its voters decide whether to stay in the township or join another one.
But the referendum was postponed when township Trustee Kimberly Robinson filed the lawsuit.
Subsequently, the township requested last November that its lawsuit be returned to Superior Court.
Last month, Griffith countered that the suit should remain in the tax court.
The appellate court could rule either way — or refuse to hear the appeal and leave it in the tax court, board members said.
Robinson's lawsuit challenges the assistance budget averaging method used by the Department of Local Government Finance in 2016 to determine the averages of the state's 1,004 townships.
A state law says that any community, within a township exceeding the budget average by at least 12 times, can let its voters determine whether to leave the township.
Prior to 2016, the DLGF used weighted numbers to calculate the budget average, which kept Calumet Township under the limit.
But the DLGF switched to the actual numbers in 2016 when the Indiana Attorney General's office said true numbers are what the state Legislature intended.
The true numbers showed the township to be over the limit, which activated Griffith's right to hold the referendum.
Griffith officials believe that last year's true number averages again showed Calumet Township to be over the limit.
"We're still gathering signatures on the petition," Ryfa said in anticipation of holding the referendum later this year.
He said more than 800 names have been collected out of the 1,300 needed to request the referendum be scheduled by the Lake County Board of Elections.
At stake is about $1 million that Griffith sends to the township annually. In past years, the town has sent over $3 million per year with assistance of about $15,000 in return.
Griffith and the city of Gary are the only two municipalities that comprise Calumet Township.
Last October, Robinson said the township's calculations reveal that the township budget is not 12 times above the statewide average.
She also said it was unknown if the township would file a new lawsuit if Griffith goes through with the referendum.
"At this time ... I'm going to talk with my board and my attorneys, but we're always going to do what's best for the township," Robinson said. "It's not my single decision."
Robinson's office was closed Friday and not available for additional comment.
Robinson said in 2016 that she expected to provide a total of $3.1 million in housing, utilities, food and health care payments to about 17,000 recipients primarily living in 1,300 Gary households drawn from the entire township tax base in 2016.
Robinson, who took office in 2015, said she has inherited the responsibility of dealing with some of the state’s highest concentration of the neediest residents. About 39 percent of Gary’s residents are below the poverty line, according to U.S. census data.