Legislature to determine how small is too small

A few weeks ago I wrote about a bill (House Bill 1005) which would force township consolidation. That bill never got a hearing in the Indiana House. Despite support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, it died, as did many other good and bad bills.

Now Gov. Eric Holcomb wants the senators and the representatives back for a command performance. Yet, most Hoosiers see little merit in reassembling this ensemble unless they return motivated to serve the interests of Hoosiers rather than lobbyists. In addition, they should be tested to make sure they are not LUI (legislating under the influence of alcohol or drugs).

Even if most members of our General Assembly are good, sensible and thoughtful persons, they do not have the collective courage to overturn generations of subservience to the past.

Townships are a remnant of the past. I am not against townships nor am I opposed to retaining elements of the past. However, the arbitrary requirement of consolidating those with fewer than 1,200 persons seems senseless.

Let’s apply that same thinking to cities and towns. Of the 567 Indiana cities and towns, more than half (290) have populations below that magic number of 1,200. Of all those 290 places, 70 percent lost population between 2010 and 2016.

Goodbye to Nashville and Shoals, the county seats of Brown and Martin counties. Goodbye to Advance and Economy, to Harmony, New Harmony and Onward. And fare-thee-well Swazyee, the only Swazyee in the world.

Why should we require that places with fewer than 1,200 persons dissolve and allow the county (or township) to take over its functions? For the same reason township consolation was supported — to save taxpayers money and to improve services.

But where’s the evidence other units of government could assume the services of those small places at a lower cost than currently incurred? And if so, shouldn’t the money saved be used to raise the low wages of remaining local government employees?

Let’s ask: What function do these small towns serve in their communities? Is there a donut shop or a bar that is a traditional gathering place? Does a small grocery, attached to a gas station, provide vital victuals?

Does the presence of these commercial establishments demand services above and beyond what the county (or township) could provide?

The town where I live, Meridian Hills (population 1,686 in 2016), is without any retail services, but it still collects property taxes to support itself. This fictional place does have an invisible town board, a constabulary, cemetery-quality entry monuments, plus street signs and lights poles differentiated from those of surrounding Indianapolis.

Meridian Hills claims to maintain streets but, again, where’s the evidence? The potholes here are as dreadful as on adjacent Indianapolis streets.

What gives justification to a governmental unit? Is it the number of people within its boundaries or the services it provides to those residents and business who pay the supporting taxes?

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.