Griffith studies potential of township secession bill
By Michelle L. QUinn Post-Tribune correspondent February 16, 2013 11:58PM
Calumet Twp. main office at 610 Connecticut St. in Gary. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:49AM
Should House Bill 1585 — the legislation designed to let a town leave one township for another if it meets detailed requirements — pass the Senate and go into effect July 1, the onus will fall on Griffith to prove it wouldn’t be a burden on any contiguous townships that might allow it in.
If adopted, HB 1585, which passed out of the House 66-32 last week, would allow a municipality to attach itself to an adjacent township if the municipality’s current property tax rate is at least 15 times the state’s average township assistance tax rate. The city or town would go through a referendum for the voters to decide whether to detach from the current township. If the referendum is approved, the city or town would need to petition adjacent townships — in Griffith’s case, St. John, North or Ross — to join them.
The town of Griffith contends its residents pay $3 million into the Calumet Township budget. Township Trustee Mary Elgin and township financial adviser Curtis Whittaker, however, maintain Griffith taxpayers paid in $1.76 million for 2012, making its poor relief tax rate 15.9 times the state average.
The 16,893-resident town could be an attractive addition for an adjoing township, Griffith Clerk-Treasurer George Jerome said, because its net assessed value has the potential to lower the property tax rate for both the absorbing township and Griffith residents.
Cristopher Johnston, a former deputy chief of staff for Mitch Daniels and now a consultant with KMS Consulting LLC, who the town has hired to look into its net assessed value, explained that if a local governmental unit needs to spend $100, first it must be determined how much of that $100 is gotten through property tax and how much through other miscellaneous fees.
The way the charge to residents is figured, then, is to take the amount of money raised through property taxes and divide that number by the town’s assessed value. The larger the assessed value, the lower the tax rate.
Griffith’s 2013 net assessed valuation, Johnston said, is $501,513,089 and is split between Calumet and St. John Townships. Calumet is credited with the lion’s share — $471,866,493, or 94 percent, while St. John Township’s portion is $29,646,596.
Whether that assessed value is enough to persuade other townships to take on the potential extra burden of poor relief remains to be seen.
St. John Township Trustee Jean E. Shepherd said she would have to weigh the impact if petitioned by Griffith, she but isn’t convinced the bill will pass.
“This has been going on for six, seven years, now,” Shepherd said. “The fact is, it has to be approved, and until then, there’s really nothing to consider.”
North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan didn’t return calls for comment.
The bill, however, no longer guarantees Griffith’s secession.
Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, 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.