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Executive would replace commissioners under Senate-passed bill

INDIANAPOLIS – Allen County could have a new and unique county government structure under a bill passed by the Senate 41-7 Tuesday.

Instead of three county commissioners, citizens could decide in a fall referendum whether Allen County should move to a single county executive system with a larger county council.

Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, pledged to the chamber that the bill would only apply to Allen County, saying he would not agree to any changes that would include other counties.

The Allen County language was added in committee to an unrelated election bill. It has been termed a voluntary option similar to language that passed in the Senate last year but ultimately died.

But past versions have allowed the three members of the Allen County commissioners or a public petition to trigger a referendum.

House Bill 1318 legislatively mandates a referendum vote this fall on the proposal.

The referendum question would essentially be whether the county should move to a single county executive system alongside a larger county council with legislative and fiscal powers. It is similar to how a mayor and city council run a city.

If the referendum passes, the first Allen County single county executive would be elected in the 2018 general election and the county commissioners’ board would be abolished Jan. 1, 2019.

The County Council would jump from seven members – four districts and three at-large members – to nine single-member districts.

Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, supported the measure and pointed to the expansion of the county council as a key reason why. He said when he served on county council the vast majority of people on there were from the city.

But under the expansion there would be nine distinct districts, meaning every part of the county would have at least one direct representative.

Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said she voted ‘yes’ only due to Miller’s assurance that the idea won’t be expanded to other counties.

“Allen County is sufficiently large with unique characteristics and they should at least have this option to vote,” she said.

The Allen County commissioners have remained mum, with at least two of them stating they will not oppose a referendum on the issue.

The Indiana Farm Bureau, along with its Allen County counterpart, opposed the bill along with the state county commissioners association.

One of the major concerns by those groups is that the bill will be widened to apply to other areas of the state. An effort to do so last year killed the bill in the House.

Allen County business interests have pushed the provision this year at the Statehouse.

The only area senator to oppose the bill was Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, who has long championed the current government structure.

Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville – author of the bill in the House – said some members of her caucus support the Allen County language while others don’t. She has not decided whether she will accept the language via a concurrence vote or further negotiate on the legislation.