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Daniels suggests major local government overhaul


December 24, 2008
Gov. Mitch Daniels indicated on Friday that he would seek support from lawmakers for major changes in local government across the state. His plan includes eliminating most township officials and demanding the consolidation of the smallest school districts in the state.

"This is a set of changes that are long overdue in Indiana. We are an outlier among the states. We have more of almost everything — taxing units, subdivisions and politicians — than elsewhere. More than we need, more than taxpayers can get good service for, and certainly more than we should be paying for," Daniels said.

Among the most significant of the recommendations the governor plans to put forward is that there should be one county executive, a stronger legislative body for county government, elimination of townships, and reorganization of school district central office operations.

The recommendations stem from the 2007 report from the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, which includes Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan and included the following;

•Establish a single-person elected county executive.

•Establish a single, unified legislative body for county government and expand legislative membership to ensure sufficient representation for included rural, suburban and urban populations.

•The sheriff, county clerk and auditor would remain elected. The county assessor, county treasurer, county recorder, county surveyor and county coroner would be appointed by the county executive. The elected county auditor would retain the duties associated with handling and distributing funds to units of government in the county.

Rationale: As the chief county law enforcement official, the sheriff should remain accountable to voters. Similarly, because the clerk plays a crucial role in elections, that position should also answer directly to voters. The auditor should remain elected because this officer handles state and federal money on behalf of all the local government units in the county. All of the auditor's property tax billing duties, however, should be transferred to the county executive.

The duties of the other county officers are mainly administrative and could best be performed by appointed professionals, creating better accountability.

•Retain a local government role for property tax assessment under a county assessor who is required to meet professional qualifications and appointed by the county executive.

•Create a countywide body to oversee the provision of all public safety services.

•Consolidate emergency public safety dispatch by county or multi-county region. Require that new, local emergency communications systems be compatible with the Project Hoosier SAFE-T statewide 800 MHz communications system.

•Transfer the responsibility for all funding of the state's trial court system to the state including public defenders and probation. (Recommended with changes.)

•Move the funding of child welfare from counties to the state.

There are a total of 27 recommendations and the remaining ones will be posted on our Web site at www.clarionnews.net.

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