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Redrawing the map

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Voters will have the chance next year to decide whether or not to make Middletown the largest town – by area – in Henry County.

The town board and the Fall Creek Township trustee board have both passed resolutions proposing the two entities become one, expanding Middletown to the current township boundaries.

Fall Creek Township Trustee Steve Thompson said the move could save rural taxpayers around the town a lot of money in the long run.

“I wouldn’t be going down this road if I didn’t believe it was the right thing to do,” Thompson said.

Thompson was elected as township trustee in November and took office in January. Thompson said since taking office, he has learned there are several places where services from the town and the township overlap.

Township trustees are tasked with providing local fire protection, cemetery maintenance and poor relief in Indiana. Thompson said his actual role in those services is minimal and can be managed by the town board.

Cemetery maintenance, for example, is contracted out. Fire protection is provided by the Middletown/Fall Creek Volunteer Fire Department, which Thompson writes a check to each year.

As trustee, Thompson is paid $9,500 a year. His deputy trustee receives another $8,500 each year from the Fall Creek Township’s $42,000 operating budget.

Township taxpayers also pay rent on the trustee’s office, along with bonding and other administrative costs that aren’t directly related to providing service to the township.

Thompson said he’s very conservative when it comes to how tax dollars are spent. He said by formally joining with Middletown, more rural resident tax dollars would go toward services than they are now.

“Eliminating my position, with the situation we have in Middletown, would be a substantial savings to taxpayers,” Thompson said. “It made sense to me.”

Thompson emphasized the move is not to make Middletown “a big metro town.” Instead, it is a way to consolidate the services already provided to the township and maintain county services through more efficient interlocal agreements.

Thompson said other Indiana communities, like Zionsville and neighboring Yorktown, have consolidated with their townships since the Indiana legislature created the process in 2008.

Currently, Middletown’s town limits stop just south of Locust Street and north of Mill Street, east of Dietrich Park and west to Mechanicsburg Road.

If residents accept the consolidation, Fall Creek Township will go away and Middletown will expand its legal borders from County Road 500 West to the county line and from County Road 400 North to the county line.

The ultimate choice to consolidate Fall Creek Township and Middletown will be up to voters in both areas. The referendum will be on the May 2020 primary election ballot.

Thompson said in order for the consolidation to pass, more than 50% of voters in both Middletown and Fall Creek Township will have to vote for it.

Thompson said one of the big concerns he’s heard since announcing the plan has been about property tax rates.

“The tax rates will not be affected by this move,” he said.

Assuming the new Town of Middletown is created, current town residents will fall under the “In-town Middletown” taxing district and current township residents will be in the “Rural Middletown” taxing district.

Thompson explained this will keep current debt separate, meaning Fall Creek Township residents will not have to pay for any debt the town currently has, even if the merger is successful.

The new Town of Middletown would have a council consisting of the current town council and the Fall Creek Township board.

“The number one goal is to make sure township residents have adequate representation on the new town board,” Thompson said.

The current town and township boards are working together as a reorganization committee.

The first joint public meeting of both the town and township boards will take place at the Middletown Municipal Building in the training room at 5 p.m. June 17.

Also in attendance will be the town/township attorney, and a representative from Baker Tilly, the Municipal Advisor company that will guide the town/township through the process.

“This first meeting will consist of a question and answer period for both the board members and the public, the crafting of a mission statement, and the preparation for the forming of subcommittees that will study and propose their respective parts of the overall plan and report back to the reorganization committee,” Thompson said.

These subcommittees may include the following key components: Parks and Recreation; Health, Safety and Welfare; Planning and Land Use; Infrastructure; Governance; Finance; and other key components the reorganization committee deems necessary.

“The town/township enthusiastically encourage citizen’s attendance at all public meetings and are actively seeking volunteers to serve on subcommittees,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the timeline for the consolidation effort will include at least one meeting every month for the next year. Additionally, the subcommittees will meet as needed to complete directives as outlined by the reorganization committee.

The town/township must approve a completed plan to submit to the Henry County Clerk for certification at least 60 days prior to the 2020 primary election May 5. The voters will then have until the primary election day to review the plan and make a decision before voting on the referendum.

If passed, the town/township will then form a Transition committee for implementation of the plan.

Thompson said communication is going to be very important through the process. He hopes residents of Fall Creek Township and Middletown will be very active in the next year.