- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. May 12, 2016

A state cap on annexation.

Mayor Tom Henry says the City Council’s 7-2 defeat of his annexation plan amounted to councilmen turning “their backs on those who elected them to to represent city interests.”

But council members were not petitioned by city residents begging to have more land and population added to the mix. They were besieged by residents who would be affected by annexation-caused budget cuts in Northwest Allen County Schools and other taxing districts. They were responding to legitimate concerns and didn’t turn their backs on anybody.

The annexation would have taken in about 23 square miles northeast of the city and boosted the population by 22,000. Because of the recent property tax caps recently enacted by the state, it also would have taken millions of dollars from NACS, the Allen County Public Library, the Airport Authority and Allen County government. The school district would have been the hardest hit, losing $2.5 million a year.

Prior to the caps, cities could simply impose their taxes on top of existing taxes. Now, however, extra revenue for the city would largely come at the expense of other taxing units.

The caps, enacted in 2010, limit property tax bills to 1 percent of homes’ assessed values, with 2-percent caps on farmland and rental property and 3-percent limits on business property. It was always intended that less money would be available for local taxing units, so the resulting belt-tightening isn’t a big surprise. What has surprised many is how much more difficult it will be for cities to annex.

Now, that may be a good or bad thing, but it would be worth discussing the issue with legislators. Do we want to keep these caps? Or should we modify or eliminate them?

If only if were that easy.

Changing a law is relatively easy. But the General Assembly did not merely put the caps into law. It put them in the state constitution. Making a change there would require action by two succeeding sessions of the Legislature followed by ratification in a statewide referendum.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

A constitution should be devoted to timeless values and bedrock principles. Matters that are subject to unforeseen circumstances and varying influences should be in the law, which can be changed when conditions warrant it. ___

The (Munster) Times. May 12, 2016

311 service is good government link between residents, municipalities.

Using technology to help better connect residents with government services is one of the evolving faces of good government.

Four north Lake County communities deserve recognition for realizing and incorporating this concept, adopting a smartphone app allowing residents to report municipal problems and track responses and solutions to their complaints.

Known as the 311 system, the feature allows residents to report potholes, debris and other issues requiring the attention of municipal workers.

Hammond, Gary, Whiting and East Chicago now use the system to better connect with their residents regarding local nuisances.

Unlike the traditional method of phoning in a problem or complaint, the 311 option allows residents to make a report to one location electronically and then digitally track how their complaints are rectified.

Residents need not know the proper municipal department to contact. They just type in their complaints through the app, and it determines, based on the language in the note, what department should respond.

Other Lake, Porter and LaPorte county communities not yet using a 311 app service need to consider it.

Smartphones and their many features have become staples in most of our lives.

The 311 process converts the utility of smartphones to a municipal good.

It’s refreshing to see the process begin to take hold in a Region whose local government often is defined as being behind the times.___

South Bend Tribune. May 10, 2016

Fairness needed on immigration committee.

We’ve long argued that immigration reform is an issue that should be tackled by the federal government.

Last month’s initial meeting of the Indiana Senate Select Committee on Immigration - tasked with studying the impact “unauthorized aliens” have on Indiana and what the state can legally do - only supports that view.

The unwillingness and inability of those in the nation’s capital to act on this pressing matter has led to the current situation in Indiana and other states. Instead of working to overhaul a broken system, Congress has kicked the issue down the road time and time again. The result? A patchwork of state measures that don’t offer a real solution.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordville, alluded to this in his opening statement during the committee’s first meeting on April 19, noting that because Congress is not addressing immigration, states have to step up.

The Indiana Senate committee, led by state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, plans to hold six meetings and form recommendations for state immigration policy, regarding both legal and illegal immigration. Delph, a longtime vocal critic of illegal immigration, has promised to take a “fair and deliberative approach” to studying the issue.

That approach would call for a diversity of views to be represented, which wasn’t the case at the committee’s inaugural meeting. Invited to testify were Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, and Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel for the Immigration Law Reform Institute. Kobach helped draft Arizona’s 2010 stringent illegal immigration law, three provisions of which were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Southern Poverty Law Center links both men to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which it calls an “anti-immigration hate group.” In response, Wilcox calls that “their opinion.”

Delph and his testimony from his two guests accounted for two-thirds of the three-hour session. He has said that his biases won’t determine the committee’s outcome and that he will be inviting those with opposing views to speak. Let’s hope upcoming meetings - the next is scheduled for May 25 - better support Delph’s promise of fairness.___

Kokomo Tribune. May 12, 2016

Another try at reforms.

We’ve got it good in Howard County. Despite the all-but-stagnant national economy, despite losing a quarter of our employment over the course of the previous decade, local governments function well.

Property tax bills are mailed out on time. Every resident has access to a public library. City-funded quality-of-place improvements have transformed Kokomo’s appearance and reputation throughout Indiana.

It’s understandable that some here don’t recognize as needed the 2007 recommendations of the Commission on Local Government Reform. But the committee, led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, discovered some sobering facts nine years ago.

. About 400,000 Hoosiers in 38 counties hadn’t access to a library.

. Some school systems received such little funding, they couldn’t offer the curriculum necessary for their graduates to be admitted at Indiana University Bloomington or Purdue University at West Lafayette.

. Some township trustees spent more on themselves and their staffs than they did in poor relief each year.

Not every bill proposing government reform made it out of Senate committees in 2008. One that would’ve eliminated township government only addressed nepotism and excessive cash reserves. Another, that would’ve forced the consolidation of administrations of school districts of 1,000 students or fewer, wasn’t brought to a vote.

It’s our hope the next governor, Republican Mike Pence or Democrat John Gregg, will make the Commission on Local Government Reform recommendations a part of his legislative agenda in 2017.

He should persuade legislators to allow counties to reduce the three-person boards of county commissioners to one county executive and consolidate small school districts, as suggested by the Kernan-Shepard commission in 2007.

Hoosiers usually vote from their front porches. If their trash gets collected, if their streets get plowed, they believe all is right with the world. But there are places in Indiana where residents don’t receive the kind of government services we’re accustomed to in Howard County.

It was for those Hoosiers the Commission on Local Government Reform was established. Its recommendations deserve further consideration.

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