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EDITORIAL: Township reform must not fail again

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IBJ Editorial

How the view has changed since January. Back then, it appeared this finally would be the year for local government reform. After all, Gov. Mitch Daniels touted it as one of his legislative priorities in his State of the State address. And Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in five years.

“Some of the changes are so obvious that our failure to make them is a daily embarrassment,” Daniels said.

We agree.

“Today, over 4,000 politicians, few of them known to the voters they represent, run over 1,000 township governments. … Some have eight years of spending needs stashed in the bank, yet they keep collecting taxes.”

Despite the absurdity of the situation Daniels described, legislative efforts at statewide township reform have crumbled again this year. But there is still hope for Marion County. Senate Bill 246 would eliminate township boards and assign most township duties to Marion County government.

The bill is not perfect. For example, a provision to consolidate the three remaining township fire departments into the Indianapolis Fire Department unfortunately was stripped out.

Still, it’s another step down the road to improving the efficiency and transparency of local government. With property tax caps putting the squeeze on budgets, it’s foolhardy for townships to be sitting on millions that could be funding needed services. The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance has said Marion County townships spend $1.32 for every dollar in services they provide. We cannot afford such ridiculous overhead expenses.

SB 246 on April 19 gained bipartisan support when Democratic Rep. Maryann Sullivan, of Indianapolis, signed on as a sponsor of the bill, which was authored by Republican Sen. Jim Merritt, also of Indianapolis.

We take that as a sign the General Assembly is finally serious about streamlining local government, at least in this one important county. Township governance has outlived its usefulness. The time for reform is now.

Death of a preservationist

Bill Cook was a lot of things: an entrepreneur, a leader, a healer, a philanthropist. But his legacy as a preservationist is perhaps more important, because it is so rare.

Back in 1960, business leaders such as Eli Lilly and Herman Krannert founded the statewide preservation organization known today as Indiana Landmarks.

What prominent businesspeople today are leading the effort to protect our architecture, aside from the occasional CEO willing to write a check and slap his company’s name on a building? Cook, founder of Bloomington-based medical-device giant Cook Group, restored some of our state’s most treasured places not just with his wallet, but with sweat, and heart.

The West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick and, more recently, the Old Centrum on Central Avenue are among the 57 historic Indiana structures that Cook and his wife are credited with saving. When he died April 15, he left the state much in his debt.

To Cook, preserving buildings meant preserving communities and promoting economic vitality. Indiana could use more of that, and more people like Bill Cook. We hope to see other business leaders, inspired by his vision and dedication, step in to build on his legacy.•

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