3 openings, 18 candidates for Cal Township board
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/302-0949 May 4, 2014 8:26PM
Chicagoans vote early at the Museum of Broadcast Communications at 360 N. State. File Photo. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: June 6, 2014 6:10AM
GARY — Griffith and Gary voters might be dazzled — or dumbstruck — at the array of Calumet Township board candidates on Tuesday’s primary lineup. They’ll have to do their homework.
Seventeen Democrats are vying for three spots on the township board. One candidate is running on the GOP side.
There’s only marginal interest in other townships, with North Township next in line with eight Democratic candidates for the three seats on its board.
Calumet is the most generous township in the state when it comes to board salaries. They receive $25,000 a year for a state-mandated four meetings, said Debbie Driskell, executive director of the Indiana Townships Association and Delaware Township trustee. Among the pack of candidates are three former Gary School Board members, a former Gary deputy mayor and a former Gary City Council member.
The ample salaries date back several years to a time when the township enjoyed a robust tax base from industries like U.S. Steel and residential taxpayers paid their bills. Those fortunes now are reversed.
Attempts to rein in board salaries, so far, have been unsuccessful. State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he wrote a bill to cap the salaries at $7,000 annually but it failed to gain traction.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson made a brief statement on the salaries. “They should meet more,” she said.
Board salaries vary drastically. North Township board members, Lake County’s most populous township, earned $21,368 last year.
Ross Township board members received $8,190 in 2013 while board members in Cedar Creek Township received just $700 last year.
Those inconsistencies across Indiana’s 1,006 townships led former Gov. Mitch Daniels to mount an effort in 2011 to eliminate township government.
Daniels’ reform movement followed a 2007 “blue ribbon” report on local government reform that recommended abolishing townships and let county government take over those responsibilities.
By 2012 though, those efforts dimmed. The spotlight remained bright on Calumet Township, though.
Last year, Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation calling for spending cuts in Calumet Township, clearing a path for Griffith to secede, if spending isn’t reduced.
The township spends more on poor relief assistance than any other in the state and critics have assailed its payroll for eating up much of its spending.
If the township’s tax rate isn’t reduced, the state could appoint an emergency manager this year. By 2015, if its assistance rate remains 12 times above the state average, Griffith could hold a referendum to secede and join another township.