By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — The Greater Avon Study Committee has presented its case for consolidating Washington Township into the town. Now it's up to the town and township boards - and ultimately the voters - to approve it.
The committee presented its plan for reorganization at a public meeting Tuesday in Avon Town Hall.
"This is not our job to get into the nitty-gritty details of who gets paid what and what benefits there are," committee chair Edward Martin said of their work. "It's our job to see what the big issues are and resolve them to the best of our ability."
The presentation was split into six sections: governance, infrastructure/administration, parks, public safety, zoning and planning, and finance.
With governance, the town council would have nine members in the first year of consolidation, including the township board and trustee. It would convert to seven members a few years after that.
Both parks departments would merge, with a transition council responsible for its initial staffing and funding. The new department would be responsible for all cemetery maintenance in the township.
Under the new infrastructure and administration, there would be no change to utility service in Washington Township and the trustee's office would be eliminated.
With public safety, the Avon Police Department would stay as is and continue providing service to residents in the current town limits. The rural district currently known as Washington Township would continue to be policed by the Hendricks County Sheriff's Department.
All planning and zoning approvals would fall under the responsibility of one Avon Planning and Building Department, specifically with an advisory planning commission and a board of zoning appeals. Matt Bailey, chair of the subcommittee on planning and zoning, also noted that existing land uses would be grandfathered in under the plan.
"We think reorganization will eliminate the potential of other governmental entities around Washington Township annexing our properties," Bailey said. "By working together we'll have a strategic vision for maximizing Washington Township."
The study committee has worked on this proposal for the past year. Even a couple months in, Martin says there were serious questions as to whether consolidation was worth it. The committee discovered two arguments in favor. One was for Avon and its town limits.
"Right now, if you look at a town map, it looks like an ink blot on Washington Township," Martin said, noting that rural residents like him had trouble even knowing whom they were eligible to vote for and whether they lived in Avon or not.
He added that Plainfield has already begun annexing land in the southern portion of Washington Township.
"For Avon to be what it should be, or what it can be in the future, it needs to secure its boundaries," Martin said. Absorbing the township would make Avon's population nearly 40,000 - the largest in Hendricks County.
Another compelling argument for consolidation is that tax levels would stay the same for both rural and urban areas. That's because of what Martin calls a fluke in the way Hendricks County authorizes its County Adjusted Gross Income Tax (CAGIT).
Every time you buy something, you pay the state "x" amount and the county "x" amount. The part earmarked for the county actually goes to the state first, then is reallocated back to the counties based on each of their operating funds.
Washington Township currently has a multi-million dollar loan for operation of its fire and parks departments, which is renewed on an annual basis. This loan isn't counted in Hendricks County's CAGIT calculation, meaning the county isn't getting some $600,000 annually in taxes owed.
The study committee has determined that Avon has funds that can pay off this emergency loan if consolidation occurs, effectively rendering a zero net tax impact.
"If the town agrees to utilize some of its TIF funds to pay off this debt, then it resolves a major issue of financial difficulty that the township faces," Martin said.
He told township employees that this is the best way his committee found to secure their jobs.
"If we're going to have the services we have now in Washington Township, we have to continue funding them," he said. "This plan does it."
The town council and township board now have a year to consider the plan. If both approve, then voters will see it on the November 2014 election ballot. If they pass it, consolidation goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.
A copy of the reorganization plan is available on Avon's website at AvonGov.org.