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The Journal Gazette

Friday, January 05, 2018 1:00 am

House bill would cut about 300 townships

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – About 300 Indiana townships could be eliminated under a plan House Republicans announced Thursday.

All townships with a population of less than 1,200 would be consolidated into other townships in House Bill 1005. In Allen County, that would affect Jackson and Scipio townships, which both are about 500 in population.

“This is the next step,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said.

He characterized the smallest townships as low-hanging fruit and acknowledged the move could eliminate up to 1,200 elected officials. That's because every township has an elected trustee and advisory board of three members.

But Deborah Driskell, executive director of the Indiana Township Association, said every person will still have a trustee and board. Services will also continue.

She said that some smaller townships might merge as opposed to being absorbed by a larger township so it is unclear how many townships will remain.

Gloria Gerig, Jackson Township trustee, is disappointed in the move. She has served as trustee for 12 years in multiple stints.

“I look at it as they have tried so hard to get rid of all the townships, this is one way to start it,” Gerig said. “Then they can come back in five years and get rid of the rest.”

Jackson Township has about 530 residents and a budget of $33,200. It contracts for fire and EMS protection from other units and provides some poor relief to residents in need. Gerig's salary is $2,300 a year.

Gerig said she is seeking feedback from residents but is against the change. She said Jackson Township is frugal and has a good setup.

“People just don't want to give up their identity,” Gerig said.

At one time, there were 1,008 townships but a few voluntarily consolidated. The number now is 1,005. Of those, 309 townships would be affected.

In 2007, a commission headed by former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard recommended eliminating township government altogether.

But lawmakers balked because that layer of government is the closest to the people. Bosma said now the Indiana Township Association is on board.

Driskell said this proposal maintains the overall township structure, including township boards that have been targeted for removal in the past.

She also said there are other good elements in the bill, including a cap on salaries for township board members because of reports that in some areas salaries are out of line.