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Officials weigh-in on government restructuring

Several Harrison County officials attended a meeting Monday night held by Gov. Mitch Daniels’ commission charged with gathering input for a change in local government.
Harrison County Commissioners J.R. Eckart, Terry Miller and James Goldman even rescheduled their regular meeting in order to be there.
In a release about the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, Daniels said, ‘For its size and population, Indiana has far too much local government. Indiana has some 2,700 local units of government authorized to levy property taxes. Governing these units are more than 10,700 elected officials, 1,100 of whom assess property. Few other states have as much local government.’
Many people at the meeting expressed concern that the problem was not at the local level but, rather, at the state level. The Harrison County representatives defended local government and expressed the need for recognition of the differences between urban and rural areas.
‘People down here (local level), can’t reach out and touch at the state level,’ said Goldman, who also spoke about Harrison Countians calling him for small problems like a tree in the road or animals running loose.
‘Who would I call in Indy?’ asked Goldman.
Local people can interact with the local government, but it would be tough to service everyone with consolidation, according to Goldman.
‘I don’t think the state knows what the rural areas consist of,’ said Bill Lyskowinski, Franklin Township Assessor and Trustee.
Goldman expressed that the counties need more money to run government.
‘Most of our problems have to do with money,’ he said. ‘They (state) are aware of what we have to do; they just don’t have the funding.’
The idea of consolidating police departments in a county into one department was considered.
‘It makes sense to have one police department in Marion County or Jefferson County (Ky.), but in rural areas, I don’t think that works,’ Goldman said.
A proposal has been made to combine the Auditor’s office, Treasurer’s office and the Assessor’s office into one entity.
‘I don’t know if that’s feasible, but it’s something to look at,’ said Eckart.
Greg Lindsey, associate dean of the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, the group sponsoring the commission, opened the meeting.
‘You’re here because you care about how government and democracy works,’ said Lindsey. ‘We try as many different routes as possible to provide feedback to the commission.’
Lindsey divided the 60 to 70 people in attendance into groups to discuss different questions given by the commission. A representative from each group reported to the entire audience their most important recommendations for the commission. A few of these ideas were: Standardization of technology at the state level; more state accountability at the local level; merging of city/county governments; a ranking system for counties in the state; too much local government, eliminate some local government; more local control, less state control; one superintendent for all schools in a county, one central administration; and modern technology.
The audience expressed disapproval for trending, and it was also stated that modernizing and streamlining the government has to start at the state level.
Former Gov. Joseph E. Kernan and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard co-chair the commission. Other commission members include Sue Anne Gilroy, Indiana Secretary of State from 1994 to 2002; Dr. Adam Herbert, former president of Indiana University; Louis Mahern, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1976-92; Ian M. Rolland, retired chair and chief executive officer of Lincoln Financial Group; and John Stafford, director of Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Herbert and Mahern were in attendance Monday at IUS. It was the third meeting of four throughout the state. In December, the Commission will deliver its recommendations to the citizens of Indiana. These ideas will be available for discussion by the General Assembly beginning in January.
Daniels wrote about the goal of the group on its Web site: ‘With the work of this Commission, we will take significant steps toward our goal to reduce the cost of local government by transforming it into one that provides all Hoosiers with excellent services at reasonable cost.’
Lindsey closed the meeting by expressing the importance of the public’s input and saying all recommendations made will be considered.
Anyone can submit recommendations on the group’s Web site at www.indianalocalgovreform.iu.edu, or by e-mail at [email protected]

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