Griffith secession effort takes a turn
By Matt Mikus email@example.com March 14, 2013 6:46PM
Mara Candelaria Reardon. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 16, 2013 4:04PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Griffith may stay with Calumet Township now that a recent bill from the House was altered in the Senate to focus on spending control for poor relief.
Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, sponsor of the bill that was approved 66-32 in the House, said he altered language in the measure to address the issues without moving township borders.
The bill could also require other townships like North Township to cap its poor relief assistance.
Under the amended bill, a township with a poor relief tax collection more than 10 times the state average would have three years to lower that amount.
If it fails to do so in three years, it would be designated a distressed political subdivision and assigned an emergency manager charged with cutting the costs.
Originally the bill would allow the town to leave a township if the township had at a rate 15 times that of the state’s average. It would have to collect signatures of 30 percent of the voters in the municipality who wanted to leave the township. Then a bordering township would have to agree to adopt the town or the town would return to the original township.
Hershman heard concerns from other senators that the House-approved bill could cause changes to political boundaries throughout the state.
“While we’re trying to deal with a unique situation, our law effects the entire state,” Hershman said. “The amendments were intended to find a mechanism for one last critical look at reform for Calumet Township. If they’re unwilling or unable to do that, the state will step in.”
Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, believes the bill he authored now needs more work. But he sees potential if the two ideas of leaving a township and assigning an emergency manager could be merged into one bill.
“I believe their language would work really well with the existing language,” he said. “Together, it’s a stronger bill, because it provides not only benefits for Griffith but everyone in Calumet Township, including the indigent who need some help.”
The bill is headed in the wrong direction, said Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, a co-author on the bill.
Instead of allowing a town to choose which township it wants to be in, the town now will have a state-appointed bureaucrat. The bill would also affect townships that are efficient with their poor-relief dollars.
“It affects all the townships, and tries to make sweeping reforms to all the other townships,” Reardon said, “when what we’re trying to do is deal with an isolated incident in Griffith.”
Hershman said he understands the concerns of people in Griffith, and added that there’s a chance the final language combines aspects of both approaches.
The idea of Griffith waiting three years for Calumet Township to lower its levy is not the town’s first choice, and it would still prefer the option to leave, Town Council Vice President Rick Ryfa, R-3, said. But if both bill versions are melded into one, everyone involved would benefit, he said.
“Hershman’s language is very good, and Slager’s language is very good. Combined, it would provide the solution we’ve been seeking, which is real relief to our residents and businesses,” Ryfa said. “On the back end, (a combined bill) would help Cal Township citizens get a better shake.
“A lot of people have misconstrued the changes as a defeat to Griffith, but Hershman knows how to move a bill, and that’s why he’s taking this route.”
The bill will head to the Tax Policy Committee, where it could receive further changes, before heading to the Senate floor.
If the bill passes the Senate, Griffith’s ability to leave the township could return during a conference committee between the House and the Senate.
Correspondent Michelle L. Quinn contributed to this story.