Township merger bill fails without legislative vote
INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal that would have forced government mergers on about 300 small Indiana townships, including three in Putnam County, has died in the Legislature without a vote.
The bill wasn’t called for a vote by Monday night’s deadline for the Indiana House to act on it during this year’s legislative session. Republican House leaders had made the proposal one of their top 2018 priorities, but House Speaker Brian Bosma said it didn’t gain enough support among GOP legislators from rural districts.
“I felt good about this one going in, but clearly people heard from their constituents at home that were concerned about it,” Bosma said.
The plan would have required consolidation by townships with fewer than 1,200 residents — or about 30 percent of the state’s 1,005 townships.
In Putnam County, Jackson, Madison and Russell townships would have been forced to consolidate with others. Two other townships, Clinton and Jefferson, fall just above the 1,200 population threshold.
Locally, concerns were expressed by residents during January Legislative Update session conducted by Putnam County Farm Bureau.
Among these was the loss of identity for the people and history of the affected townships. The proposal would have resulted in keeping the name of the larger township upon merger.
There was also concern expressed over how to deal with real estate documents that use township names as part of legal descriptions as well as asking residents to travel greater distances for services.
For now, they are questions lawmakers and citizens will have to save for another day.
During a recent Greencastle School Board meeting, an audience member also expressed concern over the potential for townships merging across school district lines, such as if Madison Township merged with another outside the Greencastle School District.
Indiana’s township system was established in the 1800s, but most of their responsibilities for schools, roads and other services have been taken over by school districts, counties and cities over the decades. Their typical duties now are mostly providing temporary housing, utility or food assistance to low-income residents and fire protection in rural areas.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other advocates of township consolidation argued it would lead to cost savings and better services in areas with few residents.
Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said he regretted the action by Republicans who dominate the House membership.
“They chose the status quo and keeping a system from the 1800s instead of modernizing local government services,” he said in a statement.
Township supporters maintain that it is the level of government closest to the people and questioned whether focusing only on the smallest townships would result in much savings.
Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Cindy Ziemke of Batesville said she didn’t want to force a vote on the bill only to see it defeated.
“I still believe it would be the best thing for Indiana to do it,” Ziemke said. “And it certainly requires political will to do it, so at some point maybe they will.”