INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that would have eliminated the positions of nearly 3,000 elected officials in Indiana was overwhelmingly rejected Tuesday by the Indiana House.

The House voted 72-18 against House Bill 1650, which would have dissolved township boards and removed 2,988 posts.

The bill, authored by Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, also contained a provision added Monday for a legislative study of township boards but that, too, was rejected in the vote. 

"Every time I look we're trying to be on the cutting edge of all the states and that's what this does. This is one major area that we just can't seem to get past," Ziemke said. "We have more elected officials per capita than any state in the United States."

Under the bill, township trustees would have been left in place with their budgets facing review by county councils.

Opponents of the bill questioned whether county councils would provide necessary oversight.

"They (township boards) provide more scrutiny than you're going to get if you get a county council overlooking the budget," Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said.

The Indiana Township Association was most vocal in opposing the bill. Among the association's concerns were the lack of checks and balances over a trustee's budget which typically includes costs for firefighting, poor relief and cemetery maintenance.

ITA President Deb Driskell also said that eliminating officeholders whose salary is often $500 and whose median salary is $1,800 was meager justification for removing the boards. County councils, the association said, might have to expend time and money to review township budgets.

Opponents also suggested that the General Assembly should "hit the pause button" on dissolving township boards although township reform, even to the point of eliminating that form of government, has been debated since 2007. 

"This is my 11th year here and all we've done since I've been here is hit the pause button," Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said in response. "It's time to take a step in the right direction."

There are still bills in the Legislature aimed at reforming township government.

Receiving favor from most groups is House Bill 1177, also authored by Ziemke, which requires townships to prepare a capital improvement plan if the balance in certain funds exceeds 150 percent of the township's annual budget estimate. Without a plan, the township could not collect property taxes.

House Bill 1177 is supported by the Indiana Township Association.

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.