Committee seeks ways to cut government waste

COLUMBIA CITY — Local officials are paying close attention to Indianapolis, where experts on local government and state lawmakers are discussing strategies that could affect how business is conducted at the grassroots level — townships, cities, counties.According to the Gary Post-Tribune, a government reduction committee, led by Rep. Chet Dobis of Merrillville, met for the first time Tuesday and heard ideas for minor changes to state law that could add up to larger time and dollar savings for Indiana’s towns, cities and counties.Dobis told the committee he’d been inundated with ideas and suggestions.One expert who presented some input was Bruce Hartman, an examiner with the State Board of Accounts.Hartman said the committee was formed with the purpose of researching various ideas for government reduction and added there has never been such a committee in the past.“The committee is looking for ways that government can be more efficient,” he said. “They are looking at processes.”Hartman wanted to be clear that bills, which could become laws, were not being written at this meeting.“It was a brainstorming session,” he said. “A lot of the (local government) processes are antiquated, so the committee is challenged to come up with ways that government can be better.”Hartman said he cited several examples of processes that could be looked at.Hartman said his office receives numerous reports from cities and counties that may not be necessary today.“We’re still doing what we were doing 40 years ago,” he said. “Now maybe 40 years ago, some of these things made sense. But they are statutory requirements that serve no purpose,” he said.Throughout the state, according to the Post-Tribune, county clerks and treasurers are required to file monthly reports and send those reports to the state board.They are also required to send a list of every employee and their salaries.“As county clerk, I am required on a monthly basis to file my monthly financial report with the county auditor,” said County Clerk Debbie Beers.“The auditor in return is the office that files any reports to the State Board of Accounts.”County Auditor Jennifer McGuire said today methods of streamlining record-keeping is an ongoing process.“The retention of records are always being looked at and how to archive them better so they can be kept but not take up a lot of space for each department,” she said.Hartman said local government could be streamlined, but that the process of paring down must be tempered with leaving key functions intact.“Everybody’s budget is tight, but taxpayers still want services and they expect services,” he said.The committee was attended not only by Hartman’s office, but also the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Association of Indiana Counties.A representative of IACT presented, according to Hartman, a list of 87 ideas for changing local government.Among those ideas were putting cities and towns on a two-year budget cycle, combining certain funds at the city level and allowing government units to give away assessed value to other interlocal government entities.“I have an open mind about the concept (two-year budget), but appreciate that there would need to be several details worked out before moving that way,” said Columbia City Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle.Coyle said the change should only come “with such considerations as how to fix a given fund’s tax rate over two years, and how to allow the budget’s revenues to adjust to the changes in the tax base over that longer time.“Further, we would need to refine the process for estimating any county income taxes as part of the budget as well. Currently we are doing budgets for an 18-month period and this would extend it out for another 12 months. There would need to be a lot of information gathered before making such a big change,” she said.