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House Enrolled Act 1326

Evansville-Vanderburgh Reorganization Committee Plan

 

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In 2009, LWVSWIN exercised a provision of state law to call for preparation of a plan that would merge Evansville and Vanderburgh County governments into a single, unified government. 

As a result, a Study Committee was appointed by the City and the County to study the options, feasibility, and efficiencies of merging city and county government. 

The following is the first in a series of FAQs about the Study Committee’s work.   It deals with the creation and goals of the Study Committee. 
More information and FAQs will be published as their work progresses, including the Committee’s preliminary plan, final plan, and the actions of city and county government leading up to the referendum when residents will have an opportunity to vote on the plan. 
See this website for more FAQs and periodic updates.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q.  Who created the process that allows governmental entities to reorganize and consolidate?
A.  The State Legislature of Indiana in 2006.  The Reorganization Statute is Indiana Code 36-1.5-4.  You can find a link on the LWVSWIN website.

Q.  What are the goals of the 2010-2011 Reorganization Study? 
A.  (1) To draft a plan for consolidating Evansville City and Vanderburgh County governments into a single countywide government; (2) To create new efficiencies and to expand the efficiencies already achieved in combined government services, such as Central Dispatch/911; (3) To make local government more easily accessible and accountable to its citizens; and (4) To create an integrated leadership structure that can have a unified vision for advancing our community

Q.  Who appointed the Reorganization Study Committee?
A.  The 12-member local government reorganization study committee was appointed by the County Commissioners, County Council, Mayor, and City Council – each appointed 3 of the study committee members.

Q.  What is the timeline for the Study Committee?
A.  A preliminary plan will be presented in early September 2010.  Public hearings and information sessions on the plan will take place September-November 2010.  A revised and final plan will be presented to City Council and County Commissioners by January 11, 2011.  The earliest any plan will be voted on is in 2012, unless the Reorganization Statute is amended to allow 2011.

Q.  Is reorganization/consolidation the same as annexation?
A.  No. Annexation can be imposed by the city without consent by voters; and, residents of annexed areas must eventually receive and pay for city services regardless of whether they want those services.  Consolidation cannot occur without approval by a referendum vote.   The 2010-2011 Plan will have “service districts” according to the government services provided, and residents would pay only for the services they receive in their district.  Farmers would not pay taxes for street lights, for example.  

Q.  Is township government affected by this process?
A.  No.  Township government is not part of the study

Q.  Are the decisions of the Reorganization Study Committee final?
A.  No.  The Committee will present a plan to the County Commissioners and City Council.  The Commissioners and City Council then may approve, modify, or reject the Committee’s plan or ask the Committee to supply requested modifications.  This all has to occur within one year of them receiving the Plan.  The County Council and the Mayor may have input on the plan, but neither will be able to vote on the plan before it goes to a referendum ballot.

Q.  If the County Commissioners and/or the City Council rejects the Plan in total, what happens?
A.  If 10% of the voters sign a petition, the Plan will go on the ballot despite the rejection by the City Council and/or County Commissioners.

Q.  Is the Study Committee required to address the county sheriff and city police departments and the city and township fire departments? 
A.  No.  The state law gives the committee broad leeway in deciding whether local government departments should be merged or left as is.  The committee also could stipulate that the newly elected merged city-county council would have to decidee what to do with various departments by a given date after the consolidation.
   
Q.  Will County residents who live outside the City of Evansville be responsible for paying the debts of the City, or vice versa?
A.  No.   The Reorganization Statute would prevent this.   Debt is the responsibility of the citizens who voted on it; and it stays with that group post-reorganization.

Q.  Will the current elected officeholders automatically be the officeholders in a new reorganized government?
A.  No.  Elections would be held for the new offices created as a result of the consolidation.

Q.  How can I contact the Reorganization Committee to share my thoughts?
A.  There is a Feedback Tab on the City-County Consolidation section of evansvillegov.org.  You may also attend any Committee or Subcommittee meeting.  They are listed in the City-County Consolidation section.

WHY LWVSWIN CIRCULATED THIS PETITION

•    The goal of the petition is to ask our local elected officials to begin the process that will allow citizens to vote on whether to merge city and county government in Evansville and Vanderburgh County.

•    The League of Women Voters is currently neither endorsing nor opposing the concept of a city-county merger.  We are facilitating the process required by the State Legislature, because we believe the issue should be put to the voters for approval or rejection.

•    The process for a referendum is spelled out in House Enrolled Act 1326 enacted by the State Legislature in 2006, allowing local units of government to review and reorganize delivery of services and government structure.


•    The law specifies a complex three-step process:  1.) A petition signed by at least 5 percent of registered voters in the county must be presented to the County Commissioners. .  The signatures would be verified by the Vanderburgh County Election Board..2.) If, and only if, the County Commissioners and the City Council both agree to proceed, they will appoint a study committee to prepare a local government reorganization plan.  3.) The plan would be presented for a countywide referendum vote.                     

WHY NOW?

•    We believe the serious financial problems facing city and county government require consideration of all possible ways to increase efficiency and eliminate duplication in the administration and delivery of services.

•    Change is inevitably coming. Gov. Mitch Daniels and the State Legislature are considering a number of proposals for restructuring township and county governments across the state.  We feel it would be best to draft a local plan for Evansville and Vanderburgh County rather than have one imposed by the state.

•    With the property tax caps enacted by the Legislature this year, no property owner will pay more than 1 percent of their assessed value in property taxes, regardless of whether they live in the city or county or in a consolidated district.  Therefore, any potential impact that government reorganization would have on property taxes of people who now live in the county is no longer a major issue.

•    The city’s annexation plans, if carried out, will leave fewer people living outside the city limits.  Vanderburgh County’s population is now about 75 percent city and 25 percent county.  Annexation would change it to almost 80 percent city and 20 percent county.  There would be fewer county residents to be affected by city-county merger, and county government would be providing certain services to fewer people.

 


HISTORY OF GOVERNMENT CONSOLIDATION


    Nationally, there are about 40 consolidated city/county governments.  It is an old concept. The first was in 1805 when the city of New Orleans merged with the New Orleans Parish.  Other cities and counties that merged before 1900 include Boston/Suffolk County, Philadelphia/Philadelphia County, San Francisco/San Francisco County, and New York City and its five boroughs.

    Merged governments within easy driving distance of Evansville include Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., which consolidated in 1962; Indianapolis and Marion County, in 1969; Lexington and Fayette County, Ky., in 1972, and Louisville and Jefferson County, Ky., in 2000. 

    Over the years, there have been three proposals for consolidation of Evansville and Vanderburgh County:
•    In 1974, a merger plan called VandiGov, proposed by the administration of Mayor Russell Lloyd Sr., was defeated in a countywide referendum vote.
•    In 1990, a merger plan drafted by a 35-member citizens committee was tabled by Mayor Frank McDonald II and County Commissioners.
•    In 2006, a consolidation plan drafted by a 17-member citizen committee was blocked by the State Legislature, which refused to allow a referendum vote on the proposal. 
          
    In its 2006 session, the Legislature enacted House Enrolled Act 1362 that grants local units of government the ability to reorganize if a plan prepared by an appointed citizens study committee is approved by referendum vote.  The law spells out a complex series of steps in which the City Council and County Commissioners can decline to let the process go forward, but a petition by 10 percent of registered voters could ultimately push the issue to a referendum.

    In 2007, Gov. Mitch Daniels established the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepard.  It examined a multitude of issues and made recommendations for sweeping changes in township and county governments, library systems and school districts.

    In 2008, voters across the state approved the elimination of most township assessor offices to transfer their responsibilities to the county assessor.

    It should be noted that although the VandiGov proposal was rejected by voters in 1974, many of its recommendations for merging city and county departments have been carried out.  In fact, more than 11 city and county departments have consolidated staffs or functions.  Those include the Area Plan Commission, the 911 Central Dispatch for police, sheriff and fire departments, the Building Commissioners office, Animal Control, Weights & Measures, Purchasing Department and  Personnel Department. 

    Evansville and Vanderburgh public schools and libraries were merged years ago, as were local city and county courts.