GRIFFITH, Ind. (AP) — Voters in a northwestern Indiana town have overwhelmingly approved a referendum calling for the community to secede from a Lake County township and join another in a bid to lower the local tax rate, town officials said.
Griffith officials said about 97 percent of the roughly 3,300 residents who cast ballots Tuesday voted for the town to secede from Calumet Township. Final vote totals are expected within 10 days, said Town Council President Rick Ryfa.
"This isn't a Town Council victory. This is a citizens' victory, a victory for all of those who stood by us all those years," he said of the town's more than decade-long push to leave Calumet Township.
Ryfa said the town of 16,000 residents has been paying more than $2.1 million annually in taxes to Calumet Township but gets little in return. He said Calumet Township's tax rate is nearly four times higher than other neighboring townships.
The township includes the city of Gary, where a large percentage of the population lives below the poverty line and seeks township aid.
All Indiana communities are part of the state's system of townships, which are run on a day-by-day basis by a trustee and governed by three-member advisory boards that set policy and tax rates, among other matters.
Indiana has more than 1,000 townships, which collect tax revenue that's used primarily to provide temporary housing, utility or food assistance for low-income residents and fire protection in rural areas.
Voters at town polling places Tuesday said they supported seceding from Calumet Township, and said that their town, which is about five miles south of Gary, was paying more than its fair share of the township's poor relief, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson sued to stop the referendum last year, but the courts recently cleared the way for Tuesday's special election. She told the Post-Tribune on Tuesday that she had not seen the vote totals.
"I wish them well in their endeavors," Robinson said of Griffith officials.
Ryfa said he will now ask town vendors for a financial analysis of the impact on Griffith residents for a move to neighboring Ross, North and St. John townships. He said that will be made public at the council's Oct. 2 meeting.
Ryfa said town official hope the town can accomplish the planned township switch before the end of 2018 because state and federal election laws would forbid such a transfer a year before the 2020 national census.