IBJOpinion

EDITORIAL: State can't afford to keep townships

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IBJ Editorial

Yogi Berra said it best: It’s like déjà vu all over again.

Indiana lawmakers are gearing up for another legislative session, and as IBJ reporter Francesca Jarosz reports on page 1 this week, township government reform will return to the lineup. We hope proponents can finally hit a home run.

We have made the case against township government here more than once, and the evidence keeps piling up. With property-tax caps putting a strain on local government—and estimated savings that surpass $400 million a year—Indiana simply cannot afford to hang on to this bureaucratic relic of the bad old days.

Townships collect tax money and deliver hyper-local services, including emergency poor relief. But that has a very real cost. The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance has said Marion County townships, for example, spend $1.32 for every dollar provided. That kind of overhead is unacceptable.

Then there are other, less obvious costs. As IBJ has reported, in Marion County’s Center Township—where about a quarter of residents live in poverty—the trustee’s office owns a $10 million portfolio of mostly vacant properties, keeping them off the tax rolls.

Townships also have drawn criticism for accumulating cash reserves—unspent taxpayer money. IBJ reported in 2008 that Center Township’s surplus over the previous seven years ranged from $4 million to $10.4 million, depending on expenses. In 2009, the other eight Marion County townships had a cumulative cash balance of $41.3 million; Center’s total was not available.

Eliminating township government would free up funding for cash-strapped counties. Sure, they’d pick up some expenses along with the township duties, but consolidating services almost certainly would allow for some savings. Just ask the for-profit businesses that tout “economies of scale” when gobbling up competitors.

Indeed, a 2007 statistical model estimated abolishing township government would save near $425 million a year. How can lawmakers say no to that?

Sadly, they have found a way in the past. Despite vigorous debate and some incremental progress, widespread reform has failed several trips through the General Assembly.

Apologists tout townships as the unit of government closest to the people they serve. Still, even the most involved citizens likely would be hard-pressed to identify their township trustees—let alone members of the paid advisory board—despite the fact that they’re elected.

This is an example of politics getting in the way of common sense, of politicians being more concerned about keeping one another happy than making the best use of taxpayers’ money. That may have been acceptable in the days of smoky back-room deals and two-martini lunches, but it’s not OK now. Legislators need to step up to the plate and swing for the fences.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).

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