Tim Vandenack, Truth Staff 

GOSHEN -- The debate over the future of township government isn't over just because the Indiana legislature has recessed for the year, Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder thinks.

Accordingly, he says it behooves township leaders to consider possible changes to address calls for leaner government rather than have change imposed on them. Possible routes could be consolidation of township operations or creation of one countywide tax levy to fund poor relief, a key township duty.

"Take a really hard look at it," he told a group of township leaders Wednesday. "Can we do it better? Can we do it ... with fewer townships?"

Those on hand seemed to agree with Yoder's call for proactive action. Chuck Cheek, the Elkhart Township trustee, said officials from the 16 Elkhart County townships here have already formed a body to start debating the matter.

"We're going to talk," said Christine Artley, the York Township trustee.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has lobbied hard to scale back or eliminate township government, pushing proposals, with limited success thus far, that would pass their duties to county government. Township bodies -- which consist of a trustee and a three-member board -- oversee distribution of poor relief to the needy, rural fire protection and maintenance of township cemeteries, among other things.

At any rate, the topic is still alive and Indiana Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen, who also attended Wednesday's gathering, said it will likely come up again in the 2011 or 2012 legislative session. One proposal that could get revived is the call to eliminate township boards, passing their duties instead to the respective county councils where the townships are located.

If townships are to turn their look inward, few possible changes to head off Daniels and the other township critics emerged at Wednesday's gathering. The occasion was the Inter-Governmental Forum, the monthly meeting held in Goshen of leaders from around the county.

Yoder broached the idea of consolidation of townships. However, it would be up to township officials themselves to decide if that were viable and, if so, where, he said.

He also said he'd potentially favor creating one county levy to address poor relief rather than doing it via separate levies in each of the county's 16 townships. Creating one levy would spread the burden of poor relief more evenly across the county, though it would also boost what taxpayers pay in those townships with less relative demand for such assistance.

The debate over township government in Indiana has simmered on and off over the years.

Township critics, like Daniels, argue that it is an outdated mode of government and that the services the governmental unit handles could more efficiently be provided at the county level.

Proponents, like Yoder, argue that townships provide a crucial layer of local representation and are a better fit than counties to provide services like poor relief. Township officials usually have a better handle on who's living within their jurisdictions and can better gauge who really is in need.