We’ve been complaining for several years about some townships that have hoarded huge stacks of taxpayer money.
Now, we congratulate the 2019 Indiana General Assembly for doing something about it.
A new law attacks the problem in multiple ways.
Any township that piles up too much cash in its capital improvement fund must write a capital improvement plan, showing how it intends to spend the money.
If the township fails to submit a plan, it will not be allowed to collect any taxes for capital improvements in the following year.
The Anderson Herald Bulletin’s study found that townships in Indiana were holding a whopping $453 million in budget surpluses.
Based on their current budgets, 45% of Indiana townships could be affected by the new law because of their large surpluses.
We’d like to see legislators extend the new rule to other funds used by township governments.
Our research shows that capital improvement funds do not pose the biggest problem with township budgets.
At least in this corner of the state, township assistance funds, previously known as “poor relief,” are where many townships are stashing cash.
A year ago, our own study found $3 million sitting in township-assistance accounts across the four counties of northeast Indiana. Those townships spent only $438,000 on assistance in 2017, so they had more than six times as much as they needed.
Legislators did provide a partial fix to township-assistance hoarding.
The new law allows townships to make a one-time transfer from any fund with an “excess balance” to another fund.
Until the new law, townships were stuck with the money that had accumulated in township assistance funds. In some cases, new trustees inherited problems created by their predecessors. They had more money in township assistance funds than they ever could hope to spend for that purpose.
We hope township trustees will take advantage of the new law to make good use of taxpayer money that until now has been doing no one any good.
State helping people who are wrongly convicted
Another new state law makes Indiana a leader in helping people who are wrongly convicted of crimes.
According to the law, “a person whose conviction has been vacated and is actually innocent is entitled to compensation in the amount of $50,000 for each year that the person was wrongfully incarcerated.”
State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, co-sponsored the bill.
“How much is your freedom worth?” Smaltz asked.
For a prisoner who actually was guilty, upon his release, “There’s going to be a list of services for you — benefits to hire you as a felon, benefits for dealing with your parole officer to help guide you in transition, make sure you’re on the straight and narrow — all sorts of benefits if you did it,” Smaltz said.
And until now, Smaltz said, “There’s nothing if you didn’t do it.”
Smaltz cited one case where a man was released after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment. He had no family to help him, nowhere to go, no money start over.
Until now, the only option was to sue the state, which required hiring a lawyer and might not pay off until after a long battle in the courts.
To receive the $50,000-per-year compensation, a wrongfully convicted person must agree not to sue the state.
Overall, Smaltz said, “It won’t cost the state of Indiana any more than they’re already paying” in legal settlements. The law is likely to affect only a handful of cases each year.
Indiana tends to be tough on crime, and in the past has seemed unsympathetic to the rare people who are imprisoned by mistake.
Smaltz believes the new law is the right thing to do.
“Take their property, take their freedom, take their liberty from them,” he said, “there’s got to be some consequences for the state.”
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a ember of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.