Mayor Bart Peterson unveiled a long-term plan on Monday to address the city’s financial crisis. He wants to combine major portions of city and township services under one umbrella, possibly saving the city $35 million annually. But some in township government say the proposal’s cost saving claims are overstated.
The plan proposes to reduce costs by merging police departments, consolidating fire services, merging the administration of two pension plans under one pension authority, replacing the township trustees who oversee distribution of benefits to the poor, and eliminating township assessors. The elimination of positions the city says are duplicated will produce cost savings, while allowing essential services to remain intact.
But according to Perry Township Trustee Jack Sandlin, the townships are not overstaffed. “If you eliminate these jobs, who will do the work?” he asked. Sandlin also stressed that many residents in his community appreciate having a local presence. He added, “I doubt there is an interest in giving up local based services.”
Tom Marendt, President of the Marion County Trustees Association and Warren Township Trustee, thinks the real issue behind the consolidation push is the City’s pension obligations to retired IFD firefighters. Marendt indicated the Mayor’s plan to consolidate will generate revenue from the townships in the way of taxes.
According to the plan, the city fund used to pay retired police and fire pensions will be short by about $470 million over the next 25 years. “The people living in the townships will cover costs for services they never received,” Marendt said.
The township trustees met last week and presented a proposal to the Mayor’s office that would help address the pension portion of the City’s financial burden. In the trustees’ proposal, the townships would provide fire protection for those IFD districts that extend into the townships. The city would contract those services to the townships at a reduced rate since the cost of fire protection in the surrounding townships is lower than it costs the city. The Mayor’s office has not yet responded to the proposal.