INFB testifies on township merger bill

One bill of particular concern for Indiana Farm Bureau during the 2018 legislative session is HB1005. The bill, authored by Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R-Batesville), mandates that any township with a population under 1,200 must by 2021 merge with another township to exceed the population threshold.

Indiana Township Map-Click to EnlargeThe townships forced to merge would take the name of the largest township in the merger. The bill states that indebtedness incurred by a township prior to the merger would be limited to the geographic area of the former township which incurred the indebtedness. However, the normal operating levies could be increased and it is likely that taxes would increase for the lower tax rate townships when common rates are set. HB1005 is a priority bill for the House Republican Caucus.

On Jan. 16, Katrina Hall, INFB public policy director, testified in opposition to the bill before the Committee on Government & Regulatory Reform at the Statehouse while INFB President Randy Kron submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.

In her testimony, Hall said INFB policy supports township government as it’s currently configured and that government closest to the people is often the most effective and representative of people in a community.

“We strongly object to the mandatory nature of this bill,” Hall said in her testimony. “We wouldn’t want this to be an attempt to spread the cost of a populated area to less populated areas or as a mechanism to overcome the impact of the property tax caps in high tax areas.”

Of Indiana’s 1,008 townships, nearly one-third would fall under the population threshold of 1,200 residents. Hall voiced concerns about the fact that citizens in the 313 townships that would be merged with the most populated contiguous township have not had an opportunity to realize their community identity is on the chopping block. Hall also questioned the impact on township boundaries, election precincts and fire agreements in the townships.

She added that this bill is a form of involuntary annexation. The Indiana Township Association is asking for the ability to set an entirely new levy when a merger occurs, something that is likely to be added to the bill. This measure would raise property taxes on landowners and businesses in both townships being merged. To close her testimony, Hall honed in on the tax burden that rural residents would face when townships merge. 

“This is a very tight farm economy,” said Hall. “Increasing taxes without a lot of input from the public would be a real problem for my members.”