Included Towns Vulnerable to Consolidation

(posted Mar 29)

About 50 people attended Clermont Town Council's March 26 special meeting, which was held to explain the cost of operating the town. The meeting was in reaction to HB 1341 that could dissolve "included towns" like Clermont throughout Marion County.

Council President Bob Hinshaw said the town's 2009 budget is $713,822, with fire protection taking $336,000 and police protection $205,000 of the budget. He said about eight percent of real estate taxes go to Clermont with the other portions dedicated to the school, county, and township.

Clerk Treasurer Kathy Arauco reported the town's net tax rate for the 2009 budget is $1.0651 per $100.00 assessed valuation.

Hinshaw said "If it (the town) were dissolved, Indianapolis in effect would liquidate the town." He emphasized that Clermont taxpayers' money will go to Indianapolis and be spent on projects anywhere in the county. He was doubtful if the DPW would use the money to repair roads and shovel snow once the town is gone. The DPW does not spend its budget proportionally in all areas of the city. Serving as District 13 City County Councilor, Robert Lutz attested to the struggles he has had in order to get more DPW dollars for westside road repairs.

In 2009, 9,810 feet of roads are scheduled for repairs in District 13. That is up from about 3/4 of a mile in 2008. Lutz does not represent Clermont as a councilor, but is the town attorney.

He also gave some insight on the need for consolidation. He explained the 2010 property tax caps are placing more pressure on government entities because lower amounts of property taxes will be paid.

Clermont residents, like other included towns in Marion County, have now seen that their vulnerability is in the hands of the State House legislators. Hinshaw said the proposed legislation circumvents two existing laws to make it easier to dissolve included towns. The proposed bill gives the City County Council full authority to take any action to end included towns, as well as holding a public referendum in 2010.

Although HB 1341 is dormant, there is always a chance it could be resurrected before the General Assembly's April 29 end of session.

District 6 City County Councilor Janice McHenry attended the meeting to hear the comments of her Clermont constituents.

Bernie Denning did not support HB 1341, but he questioned that Clermont residents might be blocking the wishes of other included towns' residents if they wanted to dissolve. Hinshaw responded that the other included towns' existence do not depend on Clermont's support of HB 1341. He said that if residents from other included towns want to dissolve they can use the existing laws.

One resident thought he received a "small pittance" of service for the $205,000 police protection.

Councilor Vonda Kiger received accolades twice from residents for keeping the town clean. State Representative Phil Hinkle, who authored the bill, said it was a piece of government reform legislation that addressed township, fire, and small claims courts, and included towns was just one element in the bill.

Hinkle arrived late after the meeting ended to answer questions because of his own quarterly town hall meeting in Speedway. More than a dozen people stayed after the meeting to talk to Hinkle.

After the meeting, Arauco responded to Leonard Bateson's question about the estimated $95,000 sign fund. She said it had been transferred to the rainy day and fire contract funds. Bateson and resident Linda Lucas have repeatedly questioned Hinshaw about the sign fund at various council meetings. Bateson said he raised the question again at the special meeting because "the residents don't know what questions to ask you."

Hinshaw said that creating an account is not raising taxes like Bateson thinks.

A survey distributed at the meeting indicated that 56% of the attendees favored keeping the town.