INDIANAPOLIS – A move to create an alternative system of county government in Allen County is getting a new home with just days left in the legislative session.
The Allen County provision was added a few weeks ago in the Senate to House Bill 1318. But the author of that election bill wanted to remove the provision, sending local lawmakers searching for a way to salvage the measure.
As a result, Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, agreed Monday to strip an unemployment bill he wrote and use House Bill 1346 as the new home for a provision involving a single county executive system.
There was no opposition to the move in a Monday hearing on the matter, meaning the House and Senate could each vote on the final bill quickly.
Hopefully, we have enough votes to pass it, Leonard said.
The proposal requires a referendum this fall on whether Allen 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.
Currently, there are three county commissioners that act as the county executive and have legislative powers. The County Council handles fiscal matters.
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 – to nine single-member districts.
This means every part of the county will have a direct elected representative.
Supporters say this change should negate concerns from those in the unincorporated parts of the county who fear they will lose representation.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, pointed out in Monday’s hearing that six of the seven current County Council members and two of the three county commissioners live in Fort Wayne.
If someone says they are going to lose rural representation, is that true? he asked.
Holdman also said the three county commissioners make $67,000 each and have access to a county car.
This is a common-sense step for a community desperate to continue its economic resurgence, said Matt Bell, lobbyist for the Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana.
It provides a single point of contact and accountability.
Leonard also pointed out that if the new system doesn’t work, the council can pass a resolution to go back to the original form of government through another public referendum.
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said the idea has been vetted over the years and he believes a referendum is the best way to go.
At least one representative from Allen County plans to vote no. Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, said he wants to make sure the rural areas and New Haven especially have adequate representation.
He would have preferred full open hearings so he could suggest alternatives. For instance, Cox likes the idea of having the County Council select the executive – similar to how town councils and school boards work.
I like that there is clearly an effort to try to make sure everyone feels represented, he said. I’m a no right now.