By David Denson
A decade long effort by Griffith town officials to have the town secede from Calumet Township finally paid off.
Last week in a referendum voters overwhelming backed the measure. Much of the success is being attributed to Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa, along with help from the local Republican Party.
In addition to the petition drive supporting the referendum, the Griffith Republican Party sent mailers to likely voters.
Lake County Republican Party Chairman Dan Dernulc said that the vote was a sign that residents were fed up with the way they were being taxed and were not being represented.
In 2013 Griffith town officials lobbied the General Assembly for a state law to allow the referendum in the trustee’s township where the assistance tax rate exceeded the statewide average tax rate by 12 percent.
They argued that assistance provided to thousands of residents living below the poverty line, primarily in cities like Gary, was responsible for the township’s high tax rate.
“They say the hard thing is for them to keep contributing to a city where they don’t get something back. But aren’t we supposed to be neighborly, is that what you are supposed to do as a public servant? You don’t hear people in Munster crying “about what they give towards North Township, which also services East Chicago, Hammond or Whiting. So why is it such a big deal about what you give to Gary?” said Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson.
According to information provided, Griffith taxpayers paid 32.3 % of total property taxes that supported Calumet Township’s operations in 2017. Only 7.5% of Griffith’s property taxes go to Calumet Township. The remaining 92.5% goes to town, schools, libraries and Lake County.
State law requires that Griffith find a township that borders the town’s city limits. Town officials have been involved in discussions with trustees from North, Ross and St. John townships. During the feeling out process there appears to have been information gathered, but to date no commitment has been made. Griffith officials have until the end of the year to leave Calumet Township and if they can’t find another township before the year’s end they must remain in Calumet Township until 2020.
Robinson believes that its town officials may find it harder to find a township to accept them than they realized.
“At the end of the day you still must be accepted by someone. This is not over. Ryfa keeps saying, ‘I think we should be done by the end of the year,’ no it won’t. You don’t know what you are going to get or why. The people just don’t know the fine tuning of it,” said Robinson. Among the things that Griffith may encounter is the change in the political leadership in some of the cities and townships, and some may not be willing to take Griffith.
Although in appears that the Griffith town officials are set on finding another township. One member of the Calumet Township Board is keeping the door open should they find themselves without a township. Darren Washington said he would be willing to meet with town officials and try to work something out.