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We need local government 2.0: our state has 1,008 townships in 92 counties. It's a drain on Hoosier taxpayers.

"CHANGE IN GOVERNMENT comes about at glacial like-speed which is insulting to glaciers," said political satirist P.J. O'Rourke.

In Indiana we have held onto a system of local government, called townships, which were created in 1851. According to Wikipedia, white men reported seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time in that same year. That year settlers named a little cluster of shelters on the western shores of the United States. Seattle they called it.

When created, this system understandably relied upon the surveying standards and dimensions of the day, like how far a man could ride a horse before sundown. Today it is used in less than half the states. Our state has 1,008 townships in 92 counties. California, which has the world's seventh-largest economy, gets by with 58 counties and no townships.

Each township has officials that work in it and receive compensation for what they do. Townships have been woven into the fabric of our state, given that they have been around for 150 years. If an asteroid is headed for our state, hide in a township official's office. Some have suggested that township government could survive the impact.

For two years, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, has attempted to streamline local government in Marion County His forward-thinking plan, "Indy Works," calls for a flattening of local government, a combining of functions. He argues that this is a more effective, realistic view of how the enterprise of local government should be administered.

Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, a Republican, agrees with the mayor that the time is now for Local Government 2.0, the upgrade. The governor has called for the modernization of local government, demonstrating fresh thinking about a costly system. Both men have shown leadership and courage in the face of strong political opposition. They are down at least 1,008 votes.

People have talked about our system for a long time. In fact, during the state's constitutional hearings in 1850, John B. Niles of LaPorte County wondered if our counties were too small and too numerous, musing whether "the legislature did not wisely consult the permanent interests of the people" in making so many layers of government.

The Indiana State Chamber's 1999 seminal study, "Coalition on Monitoring Public Efficiency and Tax Expenditures (COMPETE)," offered similar ideas about consolidation. So did the Indianapolis Chamber's Marion County Tax Alliance, a 2002 initiative chaired by today's secretary of commerce, Michael S. Maurer. In 2005 the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute came to similar conclusions after its examination of township assessing practices.

This is not the view of some state legislative leaders. One Indianapolis Republican state senator said on the floor of the state Senate that he favors legislation to expand the duties of township officials. We need, he argued, to find something for these people to do.

A few state legislators have kept local government modernization at bay They may be related to a former Indiana congressman, Earl Landgrebe, who said during congressional hearings that he "would not be confused by the facts because his mind was closed." As Andrea Neal pointed out in her January 18 Indianapolis Star column, "the preponderance of evidence suggests that township government is a drain on Hoosier taxpayers."

This discussion is not about the people in the system. They are just working in a model created when their great-grandparents were alive. Rather this is about local politicians acting in a partisan fashion to thwart progress.

Roland Dorson is president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Comment:We need local government 2.0: our state has 1,008 townships in 92 counties.
Author:Dorson, Roland
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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