INDIANAPOLIS -- The proposed elimination of township boards in Indiana has been pushed to a summer study committee, postponing one effort by a state representative to reform the centuries-old system of government.
Initially, House Bill 1650, introduced by state Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, was written to dissolve elected three-member township boards and move budget oversight to county councils.
The bill, which went through a second reading Monday, would have eliminated 2,988 elected positions in Indiana. The amended bill now faces a third reading in the House before going to the Senate, where it could again be altered.
Monday afternoon, Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, introduced an amendment to have a summer study committee look at the elimination of township boards.
"I think the people need to decide, first off," Pryor said. "We have not gone through that process and, shy of that, I think we need to look at studying this as an issue."
In response to a rare voice vote tie for the amendment, legislative leaders conducted a head count where legislators stood to show support or opposition.
Following the unannounced head-count tally, Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Pryor's amendment had been adopted.
The original bill would not have affected townships in Marion County.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supported the original bill, saying it removed an “unneeded layer” of government.
“In many cases, they (township boards) are reviewing a few poor relief claims. They are finding somebody to contract with for fire protection, they sign a contract, and they find somebody by some means to mow a cemetery. That is all that they do,” said Bill Waltz, vice president of taxation and public finance for the chamber.
Township supporters see the bill as an attempt to eliminate the form of government.
“We support, as others have suggested, that we should look for ways to incentivize township mergers," said Justin Schneider, director of state government relations for the Indiana Farm Bureau. "We support the idea of a few pilot projects around the state to see what makes sense for how local government services could be provided in a more efficient, effective and transparent manner."
Indiana allows adjoining townships to merge voluntarily, but such cases have been rare.