Clay Township delays mass-transit vote for Hamilton County until 2018

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Residents in Carmel and Westfield will not see a measure on their ballots in the fall regarding funding for a mass-transit network.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the Clay Township Board opted not to vote on a resolution that proposed a November referendum asking voters to decide whether to accept a 0.25 percent income-tax increase to pay for expanded bus service.
The tax would have helped fund the proposed rapid-transit bus route known as the Red Line and other bus connector routes.
The Washington Township board voted earlier Tuesday to put the measure on November ballots, but the overall decision was contingent on Clay Township also agreeing to the referendum.
The townships cover Carmel and Westfield — the two Hamilton County communities where the Red Line would operate. The entire $198 million Red Line project could eventually run from Westfield to Greenwood.

Under legislation passed by the General Assembly this year, individual townships were allowed to consider tax-hike referendums, not just counties. Transit officials have said the township option is more appropriate in the northern suburbs because the proposed system would only cover the southern half—and denser area—of Hamilton County.

The Indianapolis City-County Council last month approved adding the measure to the Nov. 8 ballot in Marion County.

Clay Township Board President Matthew Snyder said the board decided to delay voting on the matter until 2018—the next eligible election year—because members want to see what happens in Marion County before moving forward.
“Mass transit is an exciting opportunity… The support from businesses has been overwhelming,” Snyder said. “But the focus has been and should be on Marion County.”
Representatives from the combined Carmel and Fishers Chamber of Commerce, known as OneZone, and the Westfield Chamber of Commerce have publicly supported the referendum.
Mary Eckard, a Clay Township Board member, said she was worried voters wouldn’t be receptive to another tax.
“Timing is everything, and I feel this may not be the right time for this,” Eckard said. “I don’t feel like rushing into a decision that affects tax dollars for years.”
For a household earning the median income of $86,760 in Hamilton County, the tax hike would have cost $18 per month, or $216 annually.
Initial projections showed that the tax hike would generate about $4.14 million from Clay Township and $1.7 million from Washington, but updated estimates based on 2018 figures show it would cost residents $12 million in Clay and $4.8 million in Washington.
Pleasant Township, which includes Greenwood and the proposed third phase of the Red Line, could still propose a referendum on November ballots, but no date has been set to discuss the issue. The township has until mid-July to take action.
Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman spoke at the Clay Township meeting after the board said it would not vote.
“It is clear from the comments today that much more education needs to be done,” Altman said.
Snyder said he didn’t feel he had enough information or that enough information could be provided to the voters prior to this year's election.
“I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on mass transit,” Snyder said. “I think it has its merits.”

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