Since disbelief is already in the air due to the wonder that is the NCAA hoops tourney (Go Dawgs!), here’s a shocker to add to the list from the world of township governance. The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) blog sums it up aptly, but hold onto your beverage while reading (and hopefully that beverage is just coffee since it’s only 8 a.m.):
(Thursday’s) Indianapolis Star includes an interesting article on the latest antics from the world of township government – the Washington Township (Marion County) trustee racking up $20,000 in legal bills in a dispute over $758 in poor relief aid sought by a township resident for help with her rent and water bills.
Of the many troubling issues this story raises, two stand out. First, the idea that these sorts of fiscally imprudent decisions are being made with little or no oversight by 1,008 separately-elected township officials is disheartening given the dire financial straits of state and local governments.
Across Indiana, local officials are debating cuts in education, infrastructure, public safety and more. Counties and municipalities are making tough choices. Our legislature has made these choices even tougher by not stepping to the plate and making its own difficult political decision to reform local government, at least by demanding more oversight and streamlining of township offices. And so we continue to be burdened by another layer of government bureaucracy that consumes and squanders tax dollars.
As to the circumstances of the Washington Township case itself, it’s difficult to argue the merits of either side on the basis of any statewide or even countywide guidelines. That’s the second issue – there are no common rules for the provision of poor relief in Indiana. Each township sets its own, leading to a patchwork approach that’s unfair and inefficient. More than half the state’s townships provide relief to 20 households or less, and spend three dollars in overhead for every one that actually reaches a disadvantaged family. It’s no surprise that disputes such as the one in Washington Township arise.
While the General Assembly again failed to take action on local government reform this session, more and more communities are exploring consolidation themselves out of financial necessity. As these efforts multiply across the state and the fiscal climate continues to worsen, let’s hope that common sense reform – starting with township government – begins to gain more converts among lawmakers.