Township Consolidation Bill Advanced by House Committee, Local Officials Express Concerns

A bill that aims to reduce the number of townships in the state will soon be considered by the full Indiana House of Representatives. Under House Bill 1005, townships with a population of less than 1,200 would be required to merge with other townships by 2023. That would impact townships in Marshall, Starke, and Pulaski counties.

With 549 residents as of the 2010 census, Jackson Township in Starke County is among those that would be forced to consolidate. Trustee Robert Schmidt is concerned that a larger unit would be less in-touch with its constituents. “We’re in a farming community, at least where we are, and a lot of the farmers and different people around here depend on somebody as a direct source of contact,” he says. “They want to know how their money’s specifically being spent in the township, and if they’re getting something in return for it or if we’re taking care of the needs of that specific township, whereas a couple of them put together, it kind of gets further away from that feeling of personal contact with people.”

In Pulaski County, 10 of the 12 townships would have to merge. But Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer says the bill wouldn’t do enough to streamline local government. “There’s nothing . . . that townships do, even if they do these things very well, that couldn’t be done at the county level,” he says, “while at the same time – and this isn’t something that the proposed bill addresses . . . you could get so much more accomplished by having a county manager. At least in Pulaski County – I can’t speak for every single county – a lot of the money currently held by and collected each year by townships could be redirected towards funding a professional administrator.”

But when it comes to things like poor relief, Schmidt believes that individual townships are better suited to help local residents. “Especially with some of the people that are struggling and don’t have a job or have lost their job or need some help with something, they want to know that there’s some more of a specific thing to their township and area that they can touch base with,” he says, “as opposed to going to get in line with 10,000 or however many other people in the county that may have a need, that their chances of being helped are less likely.”

While Origer believes the township level of government should be eliminated, he thinks the township boundaries that have been in place for years are worth keeping. But he says House Bill 1005 would do neither of those things. “With the current bill, you’re stealing their very township identities, and you’re still going to pay somebody to be a trustee and pay people to be board members. You might have fewer in each county, but you’re still going to be paying people to do something that somebody else could be doing more efficiently.”

The township consolidation bill passed out of the House Committee on Ways and Means Monday, after getting the approval of the Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform last week. It now goes to the full house for discussion.