Local offices such as: assessor, treasurer, surveyor, recorder, sheriff and coroner would not be voted on
Committee suggests radical changes in local government

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

In a report released Tuesday, the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform has come to the conclusion that local government in Indiana does not deliver the most effective service at the lowest cost.

The report titled, “Streamlining Local Government, we’ve got to stop governing like this,” finds the present system is more complicated than it needs to be.

The commission proposes a new plan. This would see county governments led by a single county executive and a stronger county council. Services that are currently performed by township personnel would be transferred to county government.

The report continues saying, “Only elected officials should have the power to levy taxes. All spending, including school spending should be subject to more rigorous examination by elected officials.” It further suggests that Indiana school districts “should be large enough to gather sufficient resources to educate our children for twenty first century life.”

The report admits the ideas proposed “will be disruptive, even painful, in the short run.”
Saying the status quo is no longer good enough, Joseph Kernan (former Indiana governor) and Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice, Indiana Supreme Court, presented the findings saying, “the time for a leaner, more efficient government is at hand.”

Citing property tax reform as the main reason for looking at alternative ways to make government more lean, the report notes that Indiana is facing hurdles, among those, voter apathy. It says local government is “cumbersome, redundant, and complex.”

Comments on the report

Local Ripley County Clerk Ginger Bradford was at the statehouse in Indianapolis when the report was released. She noted that there was “quite an uproar” about many issues, saying she spoke personally with Chief Justice Randall Shephard. In regards to not being able to vote on various positions that have always been elected positions, Bradford said, “I feel like it is taking constitutional rights away from voters to choose local government.”

State Representative Cleo Duncan told The Versailles Republican while there are some really good points in the report, in regards to the change in elected officials, “I don’t think I can support taking decision making away from the people.” She said there are three things proposed that would make a significant difference for taxpayers: the shifting of school operating expenses, school transportation, and welfare costs. Duncan stresses that the report is a “suggestion to be talked about in the next session.” It is not something that she feels will be accepted in its entirety.

After the report was released, the governor thanked the commission members for their work. He said he would reserve specific reaction about recommendations until Hoosiers have had the opportunity to review the report. He made these comments, “First of all in terms of local government structure, Indiana skipped the 20th century. We are dealing with a system that is a century and a half old, and it is in need of modernization. We have too many of everything and they all cost money. I support the thrust of this very much. You want to know why property taxes are too high, here’s the answer. You want to know how we’re going to get property taxes down and keep them that way, here’s the roadmap.”

Task group formed
Governor Mitch Daniels asked a small group of volunteers to “develop recommendations to reform and restructure local government in Indiana in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations and reduce its costs to Hoosier taxpayers.”

Seven volunteers that included former Indiana Governor Joseph Kernan, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shephard, as co-chairs, began the task. Others on the committee are:

• Sue Anne Gilroy, former secretary of state
• Adam Herbert, former Indiana University president
• Louis Mahern, former Indiana State Senator and current Marion County Library Board Chairman
• Ian Rolland, retired Lincoln National Corporation Chairman and CEO
• John Stafford, former Allen County and Ft. Wayne government official and current Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne staff member.

The committee said they studied a wide variety of local government data, studies, proposals, and plans. They heard from citizens, studied history, conducted interviews with public, private, and nonprofit groups and more.

In the end, the commission agreed on 27 “common sense” recommendations some of which are as follows:

• Establish a single-person elected county chief executive.
• Establish a single, unified legislative body for county government.
• Transfer the responsibility for administering the duties of the county auditor, treasurer, recorder, assessor, surveyor, sheriff and coroner to the county executive.
• Transfer the varied duties of the clerk to the courts to the county election board and the county executive.
• Establish objective minimum professional qualifications and standards for certain county administrative functions.
• Retain a local government role for property tax assessment under a county assessor who is required to meet professional qualifications and is appointed by the county executive.
• Consolidate emergency public safety dispatch by county or multi-county region.
• Duties of assessment, poor relief, fire protection, EMS, cemeteries, would be transferred to the county executive.
• a countywide poor relief levy would be established.

Schools would be reorganized into districts to achieve a minimum student population of 2,000. Cities and towns would see changes including moving all municipal elections to an even-cycle year.
The last suggestion was to designate a state office to provide technical assistance to local government.

Making the changes for office holders with the exception of the county assessor, would require a constitutional amendment. It was recommended to immediately transfer the responsibilies of the county assessor to the present county executive (commissioners) with the other transitions taking effect no later than January of 2011.

More recommendations include having a new countywide body oversee public safety including: police patrol and crime response, fire suppression, EMS, homicide and other major crimes investigation, hazardous materials response, forensics, 911 dispatch, jail facility maintenance, operation and asset management and more.

Benefits to Hoosiers

The committee outlined benefits to Hoosiers that included:
• choose fewer officials for key understandable, visible roles in government
• easier to watch government officials at work
• fewer local governments
• local government more understandable, etc.
• money more effectively allocated
• local services more professional/less political

To read the report in its entirety you can go online at: http://indianalocalgovreform.iu.edu. The governor concluded his statements with, “The only way we ever make change is when the public demands it. I think the days ahead are for the public to digest these ideas, consider the credibility and sincerity of the people who have brought them to us and then we’ll all talk about which ones and in which order.”