LEGISLATIVE WATCH – Indiana Township Government

In the short span of two weeks, hope of reform for Indiana’s system of township government has gone from brightly optimistic to likely dead.  Post Tribune, “Trustee Makes Plea for Township Government,” 8 Feb 2011, and Northwest Indiana Times, “Legislation to Abolish Township Boards Appears Dead at Capitol,” 28 Feb 2011.

More than a dozen bills were introduced this session to accomplish the same task, but it appears none will make it out of the Indiana House.  Thanks to the walk-out by the Indiana House Democrats over a litany of bills the caucus disagreed with at the end of the session, any hope of reforming township government may not see the light of day–that is–unless Governor Mitch Daniels utilizes his constitutional authority to hold the session open.  If the session is allowed to close, bills introduced to reform township government will end up on this lengthy list of POW’s captured by the Democrats.

Although it may be futile at this point, here is a summary of the bills that have been introduced addressing township government reform in the current session:

  • SB0380 – To continue operating as a unit of government after 2015, a township must contain at least one (1) high school building of a school corporation, all or part of at least one (1) municipality, and at least one (1) fire station.  Townships not meeting minimum requirements shall be merged into other townships within the county until minimum requirements are met.  Introduced by Sen. Jim Buck-R, Hamilton Co.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Local Government.
  • SB0405 – Provides that county fiscal and legislative body will serve in place of township boards.  Sets “excessive” levies and maximum revenue in certain township funds.  Makes public any and all expenditures by township personnel, including trustee.  Introduced by Sen. Connie Lawson-R, Hendricks Co.; Sen. Doug Eckerty-R, Delaware, Madison.
  • SB0386 – Requires a fiscal impact analysis to be submitted to Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) before a public question.  Requires referendum for abolishment of township government.  Township trustees may retain some authority under enabling ordinances passed by the county legislative body.  Introduced by Sen. Brent Waltz-R, Marion, Johnson; Sen. Connie Lawson-R, Hendricks, Putnam.  PASSED Senate 2/22/11, Referred to House, Sponsored by Woody Burton-R, Johnson; Dave Frizzell-R, Johnson, Marion.
  • HB1434 – Township containing one (1) or more municipalities in 2013 will govern only unincorporated areas of the respective township.  Trustee continues as executive body over unincorporated area(s).  Offices of individual township assessors abolished.  Townships containing two (2) or more municipalities will be governed by fiscal bodies and executives of the municipalities, including unincorporated areas.  Introduced by Rep. Davis-R, Jay, Randolph, Delaware.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.
  • SB0385 – Townships and municipalities may voluntarily reorganize if all legislative bodies of respective municipalities and the township act by a two-thirds (2/3) majority before mandatory reorganization occurs and where seventy percent (70%) of the township population resides in the municipality without a referendum.  Terms of the reorganization are controlled by the Plan of Reorganization between the township and municipalit(ies).  Authored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, Porter.  PASSED Senate 2/22/11.  Referred to House, sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday-R, Porter; Rep. Chet Dobis-D, Lake; Rep. Tom Dermody-R, LaPorte.
  • HB1469 – All legislative and fiscal authority transferred to county fiscal and legislative body.  Trustee and township assessor, if applicable, shall be determined by a referendum November 2012.  Authored by Rep. Jerry Torr-R, Carmel; Rep. Hinkle-R, Marion.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Government Regulatory Reform.
  • HB1534 – All legislative and fiscal functions to be performed by the county legislative and fiscal bodies.  All township employees have automatically resigned where they have run for political office in any political subdivision.  Provides for the establishment of a board of trustees at the county level, consisting of elected township trustees.  Introduced by Rep. Foley-R, Martinsville.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.
  • HB1526 – Townships may voluntarily change, alter, or transfer duties and responsibilities by referendum.  Introduced by Rep. Dan Stevenson-D, Lake.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.
  • HB1376 – Abolishes township boards, effective January 1, 2012.  Township boards may be retained by referendum November 2012.  Introduced by Rep. Hinkle-R, Marion.  1st Reading, referred to Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.
  • HB1395 – Limits township government in townships that include municipalities having greater than ten thousand (10,000) in population to unincorporated areas only.  Authored by Tim Wesco-R, St. Joseph, Elkhart.  DEFEATED.

The two (2) bills worth note here are the bills that passed the Indiana Senate, namely SB0385 and SB0386, the weaker of the above-listed proposals.  SB0385 allows for the voluntary reorganization of townships, and SB0386 allows for abolishment of township government by referendum.  Neither are legislative enactments to force township government into consolidation with county or municipal government or to abolish township government altogether.  It will be interesting to note whether–or how long–Governor Mitch Daniels keeps the legislature in Indianapolis to vote on these and other important pending legislative matters.

I will keep you informed of progress.  Stay tuned…