When the inner city’s neediest residents grow desperate, local government offers them one last resort.
At an aging building at 863 Massachusetts Ave., they pass through a metal detector and wait in line to show a clerk their identification and copies of overdue bills.
Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer sometimes helps. The Trustee’s Office received an average of $6.9 million each of the last seven years, mostly from taxes, to provide poor relief—now known as township assistance.
But only about $2 million reached the penniless each year, with much of the difference covering administrative overhead.
Drummer has hoarded the rest as a shield against unspecified future needs.
Parked in a series of money market accounts, the surplus at the end of 2007 stood at $7.1 million—more than the office brings in annually to handle poor relief. Since 2001, the reserve has ranged from $4 million to $10.4 million, depending on expenses.
That’s an enormous cash cushion, and one the trustee’s office isn’t eager to publicize. IBJ discovered it by poring over public records dating back to 1994. An analysis of the financial records showed that Drummer and his predecessor, the late Julia Carson, built the reserve over the last decade and a half by collecting far more than they spent in a handful of years and banking the remainder . . .
In addition to the hefty surplus, Center Township has amassed a $10 million portfolio of underused properties for future redevelopment.
The Kernan-Shepard Commission has wisely recommended the elimination of township governments as part of its sweeping recommendations to reform local government in Indiana. Upon being shown the IBJ's analysis of Center Township's finances, State Rep. Phil Hinkle called the situation "absurd" and "unbelievable." You cannot justify in my mind the validity of overcharging the taxpayer consistently,” said Hinkle, ranking Republican member of the House Local Government Committee. “One or two years in a row? OK, I can see it happening. You make adjustments. But you don’t consistently over-bill the taxpayer.” One other key lawmaker, however, has apparently been won over by Drummer. "After a recent tour, Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis removed township trustees from legislation he introduced to merge local government offices in Marion County," Schnitzer writes. "He called the Center Township Trustee’s Office highly organized, and said he had the impression Drummer is attempting to lower costs." Schnitzler adds, "But Merritt admitted he hasn’t attempted to scrutinize Drummer’s finances." Gee, thanks for nothing Sen. Merritt.
The Center Township surplus had exceeded $10.4 million as recently as 2003, but Drummer has now begun to spend it down rather than give it back to the taxpayers who were over-taxed in the first place. Don't dare question Drummer's handling of township finances Schnitzler warns. "Drummer generally has a friendly demeanor. But he becomes irate at the suggestion that reorganizing trustees’ offices would offer more help to the needy," he writes. “We’ve given shirts off of our backs. Literally,” Drummer said. “Coats out of our closets. Literally.” You're real funny Carl, real funny.