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Monday, August 02, 2004

A True United Government?

At several press conferences this Sunday and Monday Mayor Bart (d'oh!) Peterson revealed a his plan to reinvent local government. Reinvent is the wrong word. It would be a series of suggested ideas to further consolidate both the city and county governments that the state legislature didn't do back in the late 1960s mainly due to political reasons. All of these ideas have been suggested over the years, but have sadly gone no where. I've always found it odd that Indianapolis/Marion County have a United Government (Uni-Gov) when we have separate fire departments, both an I.P.D and a Marion County Sheriffs Dept, and 9 township governments! With the city/county finances in such dire straits it is forcing the issue at last. Sort of like our mass transportation needs are finally being forced upon the government.
Here are some of the long overdue ideas:
  • Combine Indianapolis Police Department with Marion County Sheriffs Department under the control of an elected sheriff.
  • Combine I.F.D with the nine township fire departments.
  • Eliminate the nine township governments and create two townships: one within the old city limits and one beyond those limits to the county line.
  • The work of nine assessors would be combined into the country assessor's job.
  • The mayor would get control over both the city and county's budget including county budgets that are beyond his control now.
  • If you want to see the entire 75 page proposal!

As all of these ideas, or ideas similar to what the Mayor has proposed, have been floating around for years they seem to be good ideas. The reasons they were not implemented originally by the state legislature back in the '60's was because everyone knew it would have been too much all at once politically.

Supporters of the proposed changes cite the increase in efficiency (lower cost of government) as the big reason to do it. Supposedly it would save $35.2 million and that would help with the budgetary concerns. I hope they can prove that because it appears a tough fight will occur at the state legislature.

Opponents say it is a power grab by Da' Mayor. Is it? To an extent yes, yet it is tempered by restraint. The police would still be an elected sheriff not susceptible to political fallout from the mayor's office. The mayor would control over most of the city budget. As the city extends all the way to the country line, I have no qualms about having more direct control over all the money go comes and goes through the entire county. Not to mention that old city dwellers pay for both I.P.D and M.C.S.D, yet receive services from the former. That is wrong! It would eliminate a lot of petty fiefdoms that township governments have evolved into. Any governmental authority that spends $2.88 for ever $1 of poor relief it gives should be eliminated! These fiefdoms tax me, yet I have no idea what my money does and where it goes. Besides, getting the grossly underpaid township workers onto the merely horribly underpaid city payrolls will be an improvement for the workers. Interesting to note that it didn't seem to matter which side of the aisle the City-County counselors sat on. Some were pro and others were against regardless of political affiliation.

So why would the state legislature be against giving a Uni-Gov city the power to fix itself when that fix involves no state money? Two reasons:

  1. After this election it is very possible to have a General Assembly under Republican control. They won't be keen on helping a Democratic mayor. Note to the elephants: Marion County is still very viable for you to maintain a lot of political power. The local party folks got too comfy with power and got sloppy. Now that they've been beaten twice and the party bloodshed has occurred with new management in town it is very possible to get the city back with new and improved powers combined with good fiscal shape. That is the pure politics answer. The other is the fact that these ideas have been floating around for 30 years and they weren't Republican or Democratic ideas. They were simply good ideas! This is why I want the numbers to be very credible. It would be extremely difficult to say no to an idea that saves taxpaying voters money. We tend to remember votes like that.
  2. Why help those city-slickers? Outside of central Indiana, Indianapolis isn't well liked. The perception is that most of the money and power goes to the capitol city; the rest of the state be damned! Sadly for a long time that is what occurred. That perception problem will be much harder to overcome. How many times have we as individuals thought about letting someone suffer just because we didn't like that person? The tensions between rural and urban Indiana have been growing for a long time. This will simply be yet another battle between the two.

Here are two little tidbits to know:

  1. to create Uni-Gov the General Assembly had to create something called a first class city that was based on population size. It is illegal to create a law that affects a specific city so they created a class of city that only Indy fell into at the time. When a city reaches a certain population size it becomes a first class city and it will automatically be forced to create a United-Government between city and county. Within 10 years Fort Wayne will likely have to do this. I'm sure they would like the kinks worked out of the system before they have to do it.
  2. During last years mayoral election Mayor Bart said he would not force the Indianapolis Police Department and Marion County Sheriffs Department together. They were two independent institutions and he was going to maintain their separate traditions. Funny how times change, eh? That's okay Mayor Bart, I rather like you for the most part so I'll forgive you for breaking this campaign promise.

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