When things get lean, it is even more important to use limited resources as wisely as possible. And so it goes with local government.
This is the first year that each of the 92 county councils in Indiana are doing a non-binding review of the 2010 budgets of all civil units of government (including townships) within that county. The goal is to get a better handle on other budgets within the county by a single fiscal body and how the tax caps will affect these budgets. This kind of review is important, especially with the impact of property tax caps on local budgets. However, with the review being non-binding, the county councils can only make recommendations, not decisions.
To add context about township government expenditures and activities to those budget discussions, analysis was done from the 2008 financial reports that township trustees are legally required to file with the Indiana State Board of Accounts. That analysis was done for townships in 29 Indiana counties and summarized for each county.
The information from these reports shows incredible variances in standards and expenditures. For example, average poor relief per person ranges from $56 to $826 from one township to another in the same county. In another county, administrative costs to deliver $1 in direct services (both poor relief and public safety) ranged from 30 cents in one township to $12.20 in another.
It was hoped that as the county councils and the public saw the great differentials among expenditures, taxes and services by township, there will be a realization that more consistency is needed. We need discussions about how to provide more consistent services to the poor – not just among townships, though that is very important, but also in cooperation with all other human services agencies in the county. We need like discussions in regard to fire and emergency services.
Many county councils expressed frustration that the only power they had was to make a non-binding recommendation and thought it was a waste of time. Other county councils didn’t spend much time on it and simply rubber-stamped the township budgets. Because of property tax caps, local governments will have more than $400 million less to spend this year. While the county budget officials do not have the authority to prioritize among taxing units, we hope their recent deliberations will inform the public and legislators of the need to simplify local government.