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Bill that might allow Griffith to leave Cal Township heads to Senate

Updated: March 14, 2013 6:32AM



INDIANAPOLIS — Griffith is one step closer to leaving Calumet Township.

Legislation designed to let a town leave a township if it meets detailed requirements passed the House on Tuesday.

House Bill 1585, authored by state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and co-sponsored by state Reps. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and Gerald Torr, R-Carmel, allows a municipality to leave its current township to join an adjacent one if its current property tax rate is at least 15 times the state’s average township assistance rate.

The bill passed the House 66-32.

Additional requirements include having 30 percent of the voters in the municipality sign petitions in favor of leaving the township and passage of a referendum by a two-thirds majority.

Griffith would have a year to petition adjacent townships, like St. John, North or Ross, and be accepted by one of them. If no one adopts the town, it would return to Calumet Township.

Residents in Griffith pay at least 30 times the state average in township assistance, according to Griffith Town Council Vice President Rick Ryfa, R-3.

The bill, however, no longer guarantees Griffith’s secession.

Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, last week stripped language from the bill that allowed the town to assume and administer its own poor relief should no other contiguous township adopt it within a year after the referendum.

Ryfa called Tuesday’s vote a “great victory” for the town but said work remains in the two to three weeks before the Senate hears the bill.

“We have a lot to do in educating the members on the bill,” Ryfa said.

Ryfa also thanked on behalf of Griffith residents Reps. Hal Slager and Candelaria Reardon for their help in sponsoring this version of the bill.

“I know it had to be tough for (Candelaria Reardon) to go against her caucus,” he said.

Democrats from throughout the state voiced opposition to the bill. State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said this move would have repercussions throughout Gary.

“This is not my district, but this is a slippery slope,” Lawson said, “This is going to decimate Gary. It will decimate their city, it will decimate their school corporation, it will decimate their airport. It’ll be a really bad slap in the face.”

State Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said the legislation would set a bad precedent, allowing towns and townships to petition the legislature for special needs.

“This opens up the potential of a thousand different townships coming to the legislature for a thousand different reasons,” Bauer said. “That would create chaos.”

State Reps. Vernon Smith and Charlie Brown, D-Gary, both warned that lawmakers should expect townships in their districts to pursue change.

“This is dangerous to set this kind of precedent,” Brown said, “It’s Calumet today, but it could be you tomorrow.”

State Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, said he realized that the bill would most likely pass the House, but he hoped the Senate would take a closer look.

“There must be solution to the problems we’re facing,” he said.

Slager thought the bills allowed taxpayers to decide whether they want a more efficient form of government, and pointed to a number of initiatives in the General Assembly designed to help Gary.

“They just want to pay a reasonable amount of tax,” he said. “If they thought that money was being judiciously spent, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Reardon said the bill was fair.

“The citizens of Griffith deserve to spend that tax money in their own town,” she said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, will head to the Senate. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1.

Correspondent Michelle L. Quinn contributed to this story.



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