By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — Don Hodson offered an encouraging picture of Washington Township this week during the annual State of the Township Address. The township trustee spoke of continued education - both publicly and behind the scenes - on potential consolidation with the town of Avon.
One problem Hodson inherited when he took over as trustee was three underfunded township bond funds. Because of that, the American financial services company Standard & Poor's downgraded the township's bond rating a notch.
"Any entities that encountered problems like this, they would have to use CAGIT (County Adjusted Gross Income Tax) money to solve the problem," Hodson said.
Washington Township had to increase its emergency loan by $1 million, which raised taxes.
"The good news is that e-loan will now come back down for this year," Hodson said. "It was a one-time increase we had to do. We had to make the bond funds whole. Now they are whole and are in a positive nature. You can't have your debt funds be negative."
The trustee also noted that implemented energy recommendations in township departments, including fire and the library, have resulted in a 20 percent savings.
Easily one of the biggest items facing Washington Township is its possible consolidation with the town of Avon, something recently recommended by a joint study committee. Assuming both sides agree and voters approve it, the earliest it would take effect is January 2015. For now, Hodson is vowing to continue supporting Avon in its efforts to protect the township from involuntary annexation from outsiders.
He referred specifically to the southern border, where Plainfield has annexed property as far north as County Road 100 South. Last year the assessed value of the area now part of Plainfield was more than $164 million - almost 10 percent of Washington Township's total assessed value.
"We're reaching out to those people affected by that and also giving testimony at town council meetings when they have that," Hodson said of involuntary annexations. Even if it means annexing property against its owners' wishes before someone else, he says it serves Avon and the township well.
"It preserves our community and our fire territory," Hodson said. "Every time another entity comes in and annexes, it takes away from the territory our fire department serves. That dilutes the tax base and could result in fewer firefighters and stations."
Hodson also noted that, since last fall, his office has been meeting quarterly with officials from the Avon Town Council, Avon-Washington Township Public Library, and Avon Community School Corporation. State Sen. Pete Miller and State Rep. Greg Steuerwald also attend as their schedules allow.
"We're sharing different situations that each of us have and what we can do a better job of to work together - not only financially but across the board," Hodson said. "That has been very helpful."
This year each entity will conduct a workshop to show the others what exactly they do and why they do it that way.
"Each elected official and key staff members will have a better understanding, hopefully, of why each does what it does," Hodson said. "It falls back on something I learned coming into this - it's easy sometimes to look in from the outside and be critical, but until you walk in someone else's shoes and understand better what they encounter it, makes sense to have something like this happen."
He added that it's being well-received by everyone involved.
"The nice thing is it's also being watched by the state," Hodson said. "Our state representatives are talking it up downtown. There's no other community in the state that's doing this. Hopefully it will branch out."