The Town of Griffith may be more commonly known for its local shops and eateries, its bike trail and its many railroad crossings, but what makes Griffith an ideal place to live is its commitment to the interests of its residents.
That’s why, according to Town Council President Rick Ryfa, Griffith residents agreed to a government plan and voted to secede from Calumet Township in September 2018 3,301 to 70.
“The reason for secession is that as a part of Calumet Township, our town of 16,000 was subjected to $2.2 million to $2.3 million in property tax levies on Griffith property owners, while receiving little more than $15,000 in services in return,” he said. “By leaving Calumet Township, we focus on the interest of our residents and will replace it with a much lower tax.”
Calumet Township includes the City of Gary, and Ryfa said that Griffith subsidizes its total property tax collection.
“It’s a difficult situation because the State of Indiana allows a high property tax levy on Gary because their collection is only about 38% to 39%,” Ryfa explained. “Griffith is subject to the same levy, even though our collection rate is 98%.”
Since the vote, Ryfa said, Griffith has petitioned to join St. John and North Townships, as a state law requires them to be a part of a contiguous township. Both said no.
Ryfa added that Griffith will ask each again.
“I would hope the chances of getting into North Township will be better. It would be a win-win situation for our schools and our town, and we owe it to our residents,” he said. “Plus, that $2.2 million to $2.3 million would go into the township’s pockets.”
Ryfa pointed out that Griffith and North Township would both benefit from the state tax caps enacted 10 years ago and set to expire. North Township would get a contribution of $550,000 against the loss of tax caps (otherwise known as circuit breakers).
Because of these caps — 1% for homestead or residential, 2% for apartments and 3% for businesses — homestead owners with assessed values up to approximately $150,000 should see an 8.3% or 10.4% reduction in their tax bills for North Township or St. John Township, respectively, for 2018. Homeowners with homes assessed more than $150,000 are paying the maximum permissible tax.
Apartments property owners should see an approximate 3.1% or 5.3% reduction in their tax bills, regardless of assessed value, for North Township or St. John Township, respectively. And business property owners should see an approximate 8.3% or 10.4% reduction in their tax bills for North Township or St. John Township respectively.
In addition, more of Griffith residents’ tax dollars would remain in town after secession, because of the way “taxing districts” work. Each governmental entity, including the county, township and town within a taxing district taxes at its own rate.
Calumet Township has levied a substantial tax rate on Griffith residents to fund the township’s services. But Griffith residents received many services through a partnership with United Way, which connects individuals with third parties for assistance with food from pantries, utility bills and rent.
So regardless of which township accepts Griffith, a greater percentage of the total property taxes collected will remain within the town due to the lower township tax rates, and Griffith residents will see a closer match to taxes paid for services provided.
Though state law gives Griffith just a year from the time it first petitioned in November 2018 to join a new township, the Indiana General Assembly voted to extend the deadline for Griffith to complete its exit from Calumet Township by one year. In April 2019, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill, so Griffith has until November 2020 to join North or St. John Township in Lake County.
“We hope to work with the townships, so we don’t miss the deadline,” said Ryfa. “But, if we do, we will aggressively seek legislation to lower our tax rate or keep using United Way to help provide our residents with services.”