Three townships make history with merger

Three local townships will join forces in 2022, the first to do so in the state despite years of encouragement.

Franklin, Needham and Union townships are the first in Indiana to merge. State officials have urged townships to do so for years.

The idea behind it is to save money, increase services for Needham and Union township residents and eliminate confusion about which office Franklin-area residents should seek help from.

The three boards and trustees met Wednesday at Franklin City Hall for a public hearing and to pass resolutions regarding the merger, making it official.

The meeting was sparsely attended, and Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett was the only member of the public to speak. Barnett expressed support for the move and commended the boards and trustees for taking it on.

The townships have been working on the merger for the past year. They first presented the idea to Bargersville, Franklin and Johnson County officials during public meetings last year. Each supported the move.

All three township boards unanimously approved the consolidation of indigent support and cemetery maintenance.

Come next year, they will work out of one office in Franklin.

With the votes, members merged three budgets into one, consolidated nine township board seats to three and three trustee jobs to one.

The merged township government will provide services to 29,885 residents and 12,185 households covering 106.7 square miles.

All of the changes will take effect on Jan. 1, and each township will operate as normal until the end of the year, said Lydia Wales, Franklin Township Trustee.

All Franklin-area residents will seek help at the Franklin office, the only one of the three to own its building where business can be conducted during regular hours. The office also has a 24-hour emergency helpline.

Needham and Union townships have smaller budgets and no physical office, so they have not been able to offer the level of service Franklin can. Come next year, residents in all three townships will have access to the same services, Wales said.

To serve the 9,200 additional residents and 3,681 additional households, the Franklin office will extend office hours and expand its transitional housing program following the merger, she said.

Fire services will not be impacted as money will continue to flow to the same departments and territories, Wales said.

The move will add about $27,400 to the township’s budget, and eliminate $33,936 in spending on salaries, office supplies, rent and other expenses that Union and Needham trustees incur annually, said Gail Snyder, a financial analyst for the townships.

The combined budget will be an estimated $235,930, with the majority of that going to township assistance programs, she said.

Franklin Township residents will see a slight decrease in the township tax rate of $0.0043, while Needham residents will see an estimated $0.0078 increase, and Union residents will see an estimated $0.0128 increase.

Residents in a $200,000 home will pay about $13 more per year in Union Township, and $8 more per year in Needham Township, Snyder said.

The approved resolutions will be sent to the Johnson County Circuit Court, Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and Indiana Secretary of State so adjustments can be made at those offices, pursuant to state law, Wales said.

Next steps will include choosing a name for the newly merged township and making its first consolidated budget, Wales said.

Other township trustees outside Johnson County have started reaching out for guidance on the merger process, Wales said.

The process was long and tedious, but worth it to better serve taxpayers, Wales said.

Agreeing to the merger was a selfless act for the good of taxpayers, as two trustees will lose their jobs, and two-thirds of the board members voted to eliminate their positions, she said.

Wales will continue as trustee after the merger. Union trustee Annette Barr and Needham trustee Rita LaGrange, along with two members of each board, will resign Dec. 31.