On the general election ballot for citizens of Delaware County, we will be asked the following question:
“SHALL DELAWARE COUNTY, INDIANA AND CITY OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, REORGANIZE AS A SINGLE POLITICAL SUBDIVISION?”
Are you prepared to answer that question, honestly?
We’re guessing that 95% of voters have not read the recommendations made by the bi-partisan government reorganization committee, and will vote yes or no based on opinions made by other people who probably have not read the entire proposal themselves.
The government reorganization committee was created under a 2006 act called the Government Modernization Law. According to their website, the stated purpose of the law is:
1. Grant broad powers to enable political subdivisions to operate more efficiently by eliminating restrictions under existing law that: (A) impede the economy of operation of; (B) interfere with the ease of administration of; (C) inhibit cooperation among; and (D) thwart better government by political subdivisions.
2. Encourage efficiency by and cooperation among political subdivisions to: (A) reduce reliance on property taxes; and (B) enhance the ability of political subdivisions to provide critical and necessary services.
3. Strengthen the financial condition of state government.
Their goals were quite the undertaking, and led by Dr. Eric Kelley, the committee put forth a document eliminating both the City of Muncie and County of Delaware while at the same time creating a new government entity. The details of the plan can be read here.
There are many good reasons to combine government operations including: eliminating duplication of services, cost reduction, reduces cronyism by political parties and more responsive government services to end users.
Opponents claim it reduces autonomy and could centralize power within a smaller number of representatives. Since a non-partisan county executive is hired by the new government to run the operations of the governmental entity, many people have expressed that the executive will not be accountable to the people.
All of these issues are perfectly relevant and should be debated by our citizens and elected officials in a forum where the community can gather and learn about the pros and cons of a modernizing government. This was never really done.
Instead, a committee was formed to provide a recommendation to elected officials who then made some changes to their proposal after ordering a study on whether the recommended government would save money. The report said it would actually cost more money to operate, but the report was suspect and rushed. The presentation to the public created skeptics and it did not feel comfortable. Too many questions, and nobody was providing answers.
We need a plan that evolves from both the private and public sector backed by research from the local educational institutions. A forum to educate the public why we are undertaking this effort and then educate our citizens along the way. It should not be a political issue of wins and losses, because it’s about what’s best for our community and the people who live here.
During the past two years another term gaining popularity across the country is regionalism. The fundamental premise of regionalism is that places have relationships and connections to other places that should not be ignored. Therefore, our government should be shaped to better reflect these relationships.
Regionalists point to Midwest communities which have experienced concentrations of poor people and lack the resources to deal with the problems of poverty, joblessness, family fragmentation, failing schools, decrepit commercial districts and high vacancy rates in both commercial and residential real estate markets.
Toss in food deserts, unsustainable food distribution practices, and an aging population with their pending high use of healthcare resources and you begin to see how government resources are being stretched.
Suburbs have concentrated housing of higher values, but now encounter traffic congestion and struggle with commercial development practices. The suburbs face decisions about competing against the urban areas where they fled which only goes to add another layer of duplication. It creates winners and losers, instead of working together to create winners all around.
In addition, Muncie has been procrastinating with the decision about the number of schools we have in our city. Should we close Southside High School and use Muncie Central? Should we also close Northside Middle School and use Wilson as the only junior high? We need to quit kicking the can down the road and make the tough decisions.
This topic of modernizing the government or restructuring our public sector to reflect our new society has only begun. We hope the elected politicians will become better servants and create a positive atmosphere for these discussions to take place in the future and be educators for the citizenry of Delaware County.
So, whether you vote with a NO or YES on the ballot, make a mental note that this topic will surface again and we need to have some honest forthright discussions about how our systems are failing to keep up with a culture progressing into the 21st century while many of our existing systems were solutions created during the early 20th century.