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1/26/2012 10:37:00 AM
EDITORIAL: It's time for reform of township government

Herald Bulletin

Indiana has lived under an antiquated system of township government for decades.

The system served the Hoosier state well in the mid-1800s when horse-and-buggy drivers needed local government to be within a short distance.

Access to local government is still crucial, but the hour trip to township offices can now be made in a car in a shorter time.

Also, as budgets began tightening and services faced consolidation, the structure of local government needed to respond and streamline. In 2007, a call for reform was issued by the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, co-chaired by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan.

The Legislature has responded by eliminating township assessors. The General Assembly has been hesitant to cut any more.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman traveled through the 92 counties to discuss local government. She reported her findings in January. At the top of her analysis: Allow a referendum for cities, towns and counties — Give local units of government the same ability that schools have to seek a referendum for additional operating expenses.

For this legislative session, state Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, has acknowledged that the townships trustee and advisory board system isn’t worth the millions of dollars that taxpayers spend on them. He has introduced House Bill 1254, that would let counties hold a referendum vote on eliminating townships and transferring their duties, including fire protection and poor relief, to county government.

That approach, once again, allows our elected leaders to avoid the harsh task of serving its citizenry. The bill, which is facing heat, shows the General Assembly has little backbone in reforming township government. The bill allows state politicians to bow to township leaders who often are called up to support state senator or representative campaigns.

Too many times now, Hoosiers read of problems at the township level, ranging from nepotism to poor record-keeping to high costs to administer poor relief. The Indiana Township Association recommends reorganization, even consolidation of township services, but it wants local taxpayers to make the decision.

The General Assembly needs to directly take on reform. Referendums could take years and can lead to more delays in improving township government.

Related Stories:
• Monroe County Council members propose plan to streamline county government
• Several bills in Indiana General Assembly focus on local government reform
• Plan to overhaul township government generates heat
• EDITORIAL: Local government reforms make sense
• EDITORIAL: Another try at local government reforms
• No layoffs under Monroe County reorganization proposal

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