When the town of Zionsville merged with Boone County’s Eagle and Union townships, six township board members and two trustees lost their jobs.
Or rather, they gave their jobs up voluntarily.
In Boone County, site of the state’s first voluntary government consolidation, compromise was aided by shared concerns.
For the town of Zionsville, the carrot was the opportunity to expand the town’s tax base and to avoid future annexation battles.
And for the residents of rural Eagle and Union townships, the consolidation hitched their wagon to Zionsville, keeping those areas free from annexation pushes by neighboring Whitestown.
Zionsville Town Manager Ed Mitro said the entire process took nearly two years. The townships, he added, initiated the process.
“Easily, it was one year of work, and one year to work out all the details,” Mitro said. “It took a year to get the study done and send it to the voters, and a year for it to go into effect.”
The process involved eliminating two township governments, forming a new town council, transferring all township assets and liabilities to the town and creating an equitable tax system.
Since it was the first time such a consolidation had been attempted, lawyers were brought in to review the process each step of the way.
When the consolidation took effect in January, Zionsville’s town council grew from five members to seven, and the former township residents living outside the former town boundary were paying a lower tax rate than the “old town” residents.
The urban area kept the Zionsville police and street department, while the rural area kept the county highway department and the Boone County Sheriff Department. The township fire protection, however, was folded into a consolidated fire service.
Mitro said the two taxing districts were a compromise. As the plan took shape, one Zionsville Town Council member resigned to protest the two-tiered taxation.
“The desire was to phase in the consolidation over time, and not do it all in one fell swoop,” Mitro said. “It’s a 52-square-mile area, and a lot of it is rural. When you’re creating out of whole cloth, sometimes you have to be creative.”
The Zionsville consolidation happened under the auspices of House Bill 1362, also known as the Government Modernization Act of 2006. The bill, co-authored by State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, provided the first framework for local governments to pursue voluntary consolidation.
In his 2010 State of the City address, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight proposed using 1362 to begin a similar process in Howard County.
Under the framework of 1362, local governments wanting to consolidate services first take individual votes. Once all of the governing boards or councils involved agree to take certain steps, then a citizens committee would be appointed to iron out the details.
The final package of consolidation measures, after being approved again by the affected governing bodies, then go to the voters in a referendum.
Under Goodnight’s proposal, which will have its first hearing at a 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday at City Hall, 100 S. Union St., the process here would begin with a citizens committee, and then move to the elected bodies.
Goodnight said Monday’s meeting will “explore introductory topics of government consolidation in Howard County, such as legal requirements for initiating a consolidation, how a plan for consolidation is generated, and the timeline associated with implementation.”
Questions surround the usefulness of the 1362 process in areas without strong shared interests, particularly since Zionsville remains the only example of success in the four-year history of the bill.
At any time, a majority vote from Eagle or Union township board members, or the Zionsville council, could have effectively scuttled the process.
But it also proved the process could work, given shared motivation.
“We took [the power] out of the Statehouse, and gave it to the locals,” Buck said. “It’s not for the Legislature to come here to Kokomo and say ‘This is the kind of government you want.’”