Local government reform still sputtering

March 4, 2010
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Today is expected to be the final day of the second General Assembly since the Kernan-Shepard report on local government reform was issued, and precious little has been accomplished.

Co-chaired by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard, the report included 27 recommendations to streamline local government with a subtitle, “We’ve got to stop governing like this.”

So far, we’re still governing this way, namely, inefficiently. And a couple of bills that would move township duties to county levels are thought to have slim odds of passage this session.

As an overview of just how little of Kernan-Shepard has been implemented, below is a list of the recommendations, and what has and has not passed. A number of bills have been introduced but quickly lost steam.

What are your thoughts about Kernan-Shepard? Do you anticipate more of the recommendations passing, or is it losing momentum?

County level

Assessing duties in all but 13 townships in the state have been shifted to county levels. Emergency public-safety dispatch must be consolidated before 2015. And child welfare funding has been moved from counties to the state.

Remaining:
—Establish a single-person county chief executive.
—Establish a single, unified legislative body for county government.
—Transfer duties of the auditor, treasurer, recorder, assessor, surveyor and sheriff to the county executive. Transfer duties of the clerk of the courts to the county election board and county executive.
—Create a countywide body to oversee public safety.
—Shift funding of the state’s trial courts, including public defenders and probation, to the state.

Townships

Remaining:
—Shift township duties of poor relief, fire protection, emergency medical services, and cemeteries to the county executive. Establish a countywide poor-relief levy.
—Transfer township small claims court in Marion County to superior courts.

Schools

Local referendums now must pass for elementary schools costing more than $10 million and high schools costing more than $20 million. However, a related part of the Kernan-Shepard recommendation is still stuck in the Statehouse: School corporation bonds being approved by the municipal or county government with the greatest proportion of assessed value in the school district.

Remaining:
—Reorganize school districts so each has a minimum of 2,000 students. Establish state standards and county-based planning.
—Prompt joint purchasing by schools.
—Conduct all nonpartisan school elections during November in even years.

Cities and towns

Remaining:
—All city councils to appoint city clerks in second-class cities.
—Move all municipal elections to an even-year cycle.
—Transfer responsibilities of municipal health departments to county health departments.

Libraries and special districts

Budgets and levies of all unelected boards must be approved by municipalities if the district is within the city or town.

Remaining:
—Reorganize library systems by county and provide permanent library services for all citizens.
—Strengthen current joint-purchasing infrastructure for libraries.

All local governments


Remaining:
—Expand voluntary coordination and consolidation of units and services. Strengthen powers of voters to compel consolidation.
—Allow local governments to establish service districts with differentiated levels of service and corresponding tax rates.
—Facilitate local improvement efforts using best management and business practices. Strengthen state mechanisms that support these activities, particularly for collective purchasing.
—Prohibit local government employees from serving as elected officials of the same government unit.

Support and monitoring

Remaining:
—Assign the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to monitor progress toward these recommendations and conduct annual research as needed. Produce an annual report through 2011.
—Establish a statewide benchmarking system to provide the public and policymakers current information about local government productivity and progress.
—Designate a state office to provide technical assistance to local government.
 

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