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2/6/2018 7:13:00 PM
Township merger bill dies in Indiana House; not called up by Speaker Brian Bosma

Scott L. Miley, Pharos-Tribune CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — A legislative bill that would have merged about 300 of Indiana's townships has died for this session amid concerns whether consolidation would save tax money and make government more efficient.

House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, was eligible for third reading Monday and, if passed, would have moved to the Senate. However, the bill was not called up by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Ziemke said she'll introduce similar legislation in the 2019 session.

"I'll try again," Ziemke said. "I will continue to work on it because it's extremely important."

Ziemke's initial bill intended to push townships with a population of less than 1,200 to merge with a contiguous township in the same county. About 300 of the state's 1,005 townships would be impacted.

"We're looking for ways to streamline, to reduce layers of government where possible," Bosma said on Tuesday. "This one may not be possible, I don't know, but I don't want to toss the towel in on it yet."

The bill had been perhaps the closest in years to reshaping the role of township trustees, a change pursued by some legislators following a 2007 report by the gubernatorial Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform. The report led to the merger of township assessors with county assessors.

Township trustees generally provide fire protection services to residents in unincorporated areas, maintain cemeteries and provide relief to the poor.

Ziemke's initial bill intended to force townships with a population of less than 1,200 to merge with a contiguous township in the same county. About 300 of the state's 1,005 townships would be impacted.

The plan was a compromise between elected officials seeking consolidations and the Indiana Township Association, which recently shifted from its long-standing opposition to forced consolidations.

House Bill 1005 didn't have the full support of the Republican caucus. As of last week, amendments were still being proposed.

For example, one amendment passed by voice vote attempted to clarify where fire equipment, if purchased by a smaller township, would be stored in the event of consolidation with another township.

Sticking points developed early among fire department representatives and from rural townships where trustees consider themselves the closest link to government services.

"I think you have to have more predictability about what's going to happen to both the volunteer fire department contracts and to tax levies in the consolidated entities," Bosma said.

"Questions were raised about low-taxed small townships and will their tax rates go up through consolidation," he added. "There wasn't an effective measure in the bill to address that."

Other legislators said referendum measures currently allow townships to merge.

"As we move forward, folks need to determine their own future," House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said.

"I've got to be honest with you, I've not heard any clamoring for township consolidation either from my constituents or really heard much discussion at all about it in the Senate," Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said.

Related Stories:
• EDITORIAL: Indiana Legislature operates on 1-0 votes
• COMMENTARY: Some facts about Indiana townships and possible consolidation
• Township merger bill advances out of committee to the full Indiana House
• Opponents of Indiana township merging say it would increase taxes
• Jay County Council leaves door open for possible wind farm

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