Nearly a third of Indiana's 1,005 townships would be forced to merge with others under a plan proposed by House Republicans.
All townships with populations of less than 1,200 people would be consolidated into others within five years under the legislation announced Thursday, The Indianapolis Star and The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported. It would affect 309 townships, mostly in rural areas.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said the move could eliminate as many as 1,200 elected officials. Townships are run on a day-to-day basis by a township trustee and governed by three-member advisory boards that set policy and tax rates, among other matters.
Every person still would be served by a trustee and a board, and township services including administering poor relief would continue, said Deborah Driskell, executive director of the Indiana Township Association. Money would be saved by reducing the number of advisory board members, who must have liability insurance and in most cases receive payment for their service, she said.
Also, residents of small townships might receive better firefighting and emergency medical services from mergers that enable them to combine their tax bases, she said.
"As it is written right now in the preliminary draft, we support it," Driskell said
However, Gloria Gerig, trustee of Allen County's Jackson Township trustee, opposes the consolidation. She has served as a trustee for 12 years and earns $2,300 per year.
"I look at it as they have tried so hard to get rid of all the townships, this is one way to start it," Gerig said. "Then they can come back in five years and get rid of the rest."
In 2007, a commission headed by former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard recommended eliminating township government altogether. Lawmakers chose not to because it's the layer of government closest to the people.
The five-year timetable would enable townships to form their merger plans and set new elections for trustees and advisory boards. Because merging townships may have different tax rates, Driskell said, the rate of the newly merged townships would be phased in.