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Referendum will likely decide county government change

INDIANAPOLIS – Allen County citizens will likely vote this fall on whether they want to move to a single county executive system of government.

The Indiana Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill setting up the referendum.

Gov. Mike Pence still has to weigh in when House Bill 1346 reaches his desk.

"This is probably not a good thing for some of the smaller counties," said Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne. "But Allen County is unique because of its size. Some citizens have been asking for this for a couple of decades."

Under the plan, a single county executive would exist 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 who act together 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 members – to nine single-member districts at the same time. 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.

If the new system doesn't work the council can pass a resolution to go back to the original form of government via another public referendum.

The Senate vote on the bill was 40-8. The only area senator to oppose it was Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, who said she generally doesn't like messing with local government structure.

The House earlier voted 60-26 on the bill, with its northeast Indiana reps split. Those who voted for were Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City; Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne; Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington; Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne; and Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola.

Those against were Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse; Rep. David Ober, R-Albion; Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn; Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw.

Another local bill also received approval Wednesday.

The House and Senate passed the final version of Senate Bill 308, which moves to the governor's desk for further consideration.

The legislation allows a Professional Sports and Convention Development Area in Allen County to be extended, terminating before Jan. 1, 2028 or up to 25 years after debt is issued to finance a facility within the PSDA.

It would also provide that the State Budget Agency must approve any final financing for the facility.

Wyss said the extension allows Allen County to continue to develop Memorial Coliseum, which is currently considering a $12.4 million expansion of its Exposition Center.

The bill passed 84-6 in the House and 46-1 in the Senate. All area lawmakers supported the bill.

nkelly@jg.net

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