Slager: Cal Township bill had desired impact
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org May 8, 2014 11:02PM
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, City Councilwoman Kimberly Robinson, Louise Neese of Griffith, and Darren Washington celebrate Robinson's victory Tuesday in the Democratic primary over Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin. Washington was the top voter in the Calumet Township board race. | Carole Carlson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 10, 2014 6:19AM
Kimberly Robinson’s big win Tuesday over Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin could signal the end of a federal lawsuit against the state that challenges 2013 legislation that cut township spending.
Robinson, a Gary city councilwoman, called the lawsuit “frivolous” on the campaign trail and criticized Elgin for filing it in January with the Rev. Dwight Gardner, a Gary minister.
Robinson wants to dismiss the lawsuit. The plaintiffs have until May 16 to respond to the state’s motion to dismiss filing.
Robinson still must win in November over a GOP candidate, but that’s likely a formality in this Democratic stronghold.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, authored the bill that calls for Calumet Township to reduce its poor relief property tax rate to less than 12 times the average of the state’s 1,008 townships. If that threshold isn’t met this year, it allows Griffith to secede and join a neighboring township.
Slager said Calumet Township officials did reduce township assistance in their budget, but they moved those expenditures to another budget section.
The Department of Local Government and Finance disallowed that move, however, while approving the reduced poor relief portion. Slager said that action prompted the lawsuit.
“If they drop the lawsuit, they’ll have to significantly reduce spending,” Slager said. “They wouldn’t have state authority to spend more than what’s been approved.”
Slager said the law served its purpose.
“The budget was reduced, tax bills reduced and things are working like they were supposed to.”
It’s unclear whether Tuesday’s primary outcome represented “an anybody but Elgin” mentality that benefited Robinson, who captured 55 percent of the votes on the Democratic ballot.
“I was pleased to see the people decide that change was obviously necessary,” Slager said.
For Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa, the jury is still out on the change in leadership in the trustee’s office.
“We’ll go in with an open mind. There still needs to be a lot done to make it on par with rest of state,” Ryfa said.
“The system is very broken,” he said. “The financial system, the distribution of poor relief, it’s not fair and equitable. Overhead, with cars, expense accounts, costs more than poor relief.”
Ryfa said township poor relief is not supposed to be a permanent addendum to welfare benefits.
“Year after year, the same people were getting poor relief. ...
“Now maybe the lawsuit will disappear. We wish Kim well. Anything will help,” he said.
Gardner couldn’t be reached for comment.