SCOTT SMITH, Kokomo Tribune Staff Writer

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight began Monday’s government consolidation meeting with a raft of information straight from the Kernan-Shepard Commission handbook.

Among the facts offered up: Indiana is the only state with a city-county government that features two voting councils and two separate executive bodies.

That said, Goodnight made no consolidation proposals Monday, urging those in attendance to consider the possibilities.

Flanked by three attorneys from Indianapolis law firm Krieg DeVault, Goodnight returned to the efficiency theme he’s maintained since taking office in 2008.

“The costs to run local government are fixed,” Goodnight told a wide cross section of local elected officials at Kokomo City Hall. “We’ve been losing population. But just because you have less people, it doesn’t mean running government will cost less.”

That message had some adherents Monday, and some skeptics.

Few from either side were heard in the 45-minute informational meeting, that mainly featured the attorneys relating how the state’s one voluntary consolidation came about in Zionsville.

Goodnight said he’d been asked why the city has taken the lead on the issue.

“It’s been talked about in the community for years and years,” Goodnight said.

“And we don’t have to do anything; we can continue on our way and go home ... or we can recognize what we have to face.”

In the Zionsville area, attorney Robert Shine was once a member of a township board.

That position was eliminated in January, as Eagle and Union townships turned their assets and liabilities over to the Town of Zionsville.

Yet as Shine explained, the consolidation there was the product of numerous people all finding a common goal.

When several Eagle Township residents received notices in August 2006 that the town of Whitestown wanted to annex them, things began to move.

“They said, we consider ourselves part of Zionsville; our kids go to Zionsville schools,” Shine said.

On the town side, constant growth had created a desire to avoid future annexation battles.

In the end, both groups came together to form a much larger town, one with separate taxing districts for “rural” and “urban” residents.

“Our goal was to have no tax increases whatsoever,” Shine said.

He said the two-year process was marked by hundreds of hours devoted by volunteers and elected officials to meetings, and even then “we had people raise their hands at a meeting and say, ‘We didn’t even know this was going on.’”

“If there was no fear of annexation from Whitestown, you wouldn’t be where you are today, am I correct?” Kokomo Common Councilman Bob Cameron asked Shine.

“I would say that’s pretty likely,” Shine agreed.

Attorney Deborah Daniels said some communities, particularly Marion County/Indianapolis, have chosen to “consolidate some of the back-office positions” before considering consolidation of any political subdivisions.

Howard County Assessor Jamie Shepherd agreed with that suggestion.

“I think everything that’s a building block starts small and ends up bigger,” she said, mentioning the decade-long, thus-far unsuccessful attempt to consolidate the city and county emergency dispatch services.

“The city and the county in the past have tried to work with dispatch. With these things in mind, and with the [property tax] circuit breakers in place, maybe this will force their hands to some extent.”