Townships throughout the state provide hyperlocal services to residents within their coverage areas. However, many townships run differently, sometimes leaving confusion about the services they offer and how they can help.
The Indiana Township Association, a nonprofit focused on supporting townships and advocating for them in the legislature, recently released recommendations for Indiana townships to increase their effectiveness.
Kevin Evans is the assistant director for the ITA. He said the association sees townships as a necessary form of government, but is using these recommendations to guide how they can be made more efficient.
“We feel like the discussion related to the total elimination of townships is not even a discussion anymore,” he said. “That's not something that we even hear from our partners at the Statehouse, especially those that serve on the local Government Reform Committee. But it is a talk of how to make townships more effective and efficient.”
Evans explained a large part of ensuring townships are more effective is increasing education about and within townships.
“I think some of it comes from just awareness and education,” he said. “I think the education component was huge because there was not an education requirement before and there is mandated education now. So I think that in getting that component passed, I think there's a lot of capability that comes from just being up to date on code and what's available and those kinds of things.”
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Evans said the township’s recommendation report intended to expand upon this education portion, in addition to providing more suggestions for a better functioning township system.
The task force met nine times in 2022 and reviewed survey data, public opinions, and various public township data to come up with recommendations. He said the task force was made of legislators, state agencies and other entities studied this and came up with several recommendations.
“We looked at township structures and mergers,” Evans said. “We looked at finances and getting more firefighting money to townships, because it seems like that's becoming an issue overall across the state. We really looked at increasing and trying to standardize our township assistance guidelines so that they're very similar across the state so that citizens know how those services work.”
He said other recommendations included upgrading technology from paper ledgers to modern software and expanding public safety.
Evans said many of these changes require legislation to push them forward.
Debbie Driskell is the executive director of the ITA. She said she is hopeful upcoming legislation will help to put many of these recommendations into effect.
“We will continue to pursue recommendations,” she said. “Our legislative committee will be meeting in September to hammer out our agenda for 2024.”
Driskell said one of the recommendations the organization attempted to advocate for was legislation that would allow townships to voluntarily merge.
“A neighboring township could take up that township and merge it,” she said. “The idea was, if there is no one in that township as a community that wants to serve, that's fine. But the people, the citizens, still deserve to have some sort of provision of those services.”
Evans said this program would involve townships where there were no candidates interested in running for trustee’s positions, or townships that may be too small to accommodate for this, would’ve merged to pool resources. Though the bill didn’t pass, this recommendation is still included in the report and Evans said this is something they will continue to push in their agenda.
He said it is important for citizens, especially those in rural areas or those interested in township government, to stay engaged in the political process.