Hamilton County townships consider fall referendums for transit funding

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Two Hamilton County townships are considering whether to add a measure to their November ballots that would allow voters to decide whether to fund expanded mass-transit service with an income-tax increase.

At a joint meeting of the Clay Township and Washington Township boards, officials listened to a presentation about the possible referendum from Indianapolis public transportation representatives Tuesday night.

The townships include Carmel and Westfield as well as the area where the proposed rapid-transit bus route known as the Red Line would operate. The $198 million project, which could eventually run from Westfield to Greenwood, is part of a $1.2 billion regional transit plan known as Indy Connect.

Under legislation passed by the General Assembly this year, the townships are eligible to propose a referendum now that Marion County has chosen to do so, rather than having to wait for surrounding counties to take action.

The Indianapolis City-County Council approved adding the measure to the Nov. 8 ballot earlier this month.

“It allows counties to start smaller, rather than doing something big and blown up,” said Cindy Benedict, project manager for Indy Connect. “This way you’re funding transit where you can have the most ridership… For Hamilton County, a township option just makes a lot of sense.”

The suggested township referendums would impose a 0.25 percent income-tax increase— the same rate proposed in Marion County—to fund public transportation projects if approved by at least 51 percent of the voters.

For someone earning the median income of $86,760 in Hamilton County, the tax hike would cost $18 per month. The amount is determined by taking the income amount before taxes and multiplying it by .0025.

“It’s basically one tall latte per week,” Benedict said.

The tax would generate about $4.14 million from Clay Township and $1.7 million from Washington Township. The funding would support the Red Line through Hamilton County, along with developing other connector routes.

If the referendum is on ballots in November but only passes in one township, the funds could still be used to support the Red Line within that taxing district or used for a different mass-transit program. If the measure fails in Marion County, but is approved in a surrounding township, the townships would still have the funding available.

If the boards in each township don’t allow the measure on ballots this year, any future referendum in Hamilton County would be delayed until 2018.

Neither township board voted Tuesday night, as several members wanted to tweak the referendum language slightly.

“My concern is the average voter is going to see tax increase and say, ‘no,’ or see mass transit and say ‘yes,’” Clay Township Board President Matthew Snyder said. “I just want to make sure it’s clear.”

Both boards are expected to vote June 28.

OneZone Executive Vice President Dan Canan spoke on behalf of the combined Carmel and Fishers chamber of commerce at the meeting in support of proposing the measure.

“We intend to advocate for the approval of the referendum if it is on the ballot,” Canan said. “It is an economic development issue.”

Pleasant Township, which includes Greenwood and the proposed third phase of the Red Line, is also considering putting a referendum on November ballots, but no date has been set for a vote.

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