PRINCETON -- Patoka Township Advisory Board members unanimously agreed Monday that they've heard enough and they're not interested in pursuing any type of merger/reorganization plan with the City of Princeton.
The action at Monday's meeting came despite an appeal from Princeton Mayor Brad Schmitt to give the concept further consideration and explore it by committee, if necessary, then let voters decide.
The plan, which surfaced this summer following the Princeton Common Council's questions about a consulting bill for a special project, proposed bringing the the question of a combined Princeton and Patoka Township government into one entity, while preserving rural and urban areas, to voters by referendum.
Patoka Township Trustee Bruce Fisher noted that the advisory board members received a copy of the proposal and had individual meetings with consultants as well as Toyota, regarding the potential impact of a merger. "All indicated they're ready to vote to continue or not to go further," he said.
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Board member Ed Prior offered a motion, but Schmitt asked to be heard before a vote. He told board members that a reorganization would combine the two entities, which could figure out a new form of government. He promised the impact to the people of the township is "essentially negligible when it comes to their way of life," including separate tax rates, and not obligating Patoka Township residents to debt of the City of Princeton.
"If they (Patoka Twp. residents) want to continue to burn their trash, they can do that," Schmitt said.
The mayor said a merger could affect Toyota's tax rate initially but asked the board to consider meeting further with the city and Toyota representatives.
"I would ask that you delay shooting this down altogether," he said. "Ultimately, it could be a positive outcome for the city and the township and Toyota."
Schmitt said the city's opportunity for residential development is landlocked, but a reorganization would allow for more development without forced annexation.
"What are the benefits?" asked Patoka Township resident Peg Michas.
Schmitt said township residents would have representation regarding water rates, could vote in city elections and could be eligible to be a part of the council.
The biggest benefit, he said, would be having a voice in annexation, ensuring that township residents would never forcibly be annexed into the city.
The benefit to the City of Princeton, said Schmitt, is that a merger "puts us at the table with Toyota." He said the Toyota tax increment finance district lies 99.7 percent within Patoka Township, yet only two people on the Gibson County Redevelopment Commission, which decides how excess TIF revenue will be used, live in the township. "It's time for Princeton to have representation at the table with Toyota," he said.
Township resident Rick Barr reminded the board that the last time the township and the city explored a merger of fire departments, it was with the promise that it wouldn't cost any more money, would be less expensive and more effective -- but the service costs more. "I don't want the city involved in my business, which is why I live out in the county," he said.
Schmitt and Fisher acknowledged that Princeton Fire Territory expenses did increase but said that they've been trying to decrease the cost.
Prior, who served on the PFT board, said the cost to Princeton went down and the cost to Patoka Township residents increased.
He offered the motion not to pursue a merger, and board member Bruce McIntosh asked whether a "no" vote would prevent the matter from coming up at a later date.
Fisher said a "no" vote would kill the matter now but wouldn't prevent the proposal from coming back in the future.
Members unanimously voted not to pursue a merger, and Prior pronounced, "So that baby's done. Right now there are so many people against it."
Barr, Michas and township resident Kay Vore thanked the board for voting not to further explore a merger. "I'm easy to get along with, but I don't like things crammed down my throat that are not gonna benefit me," Vore said.
Gibson County Commissioner Steve Bottoms and local and state economic development corporation representatives attended the meeting but didn't comment during the public discussion.