Few in Indiana understand the key role the township trustee plays in local government.
“It’s a position which perhaps is not as visible as some of the others, but nevertheless, it is an extremely important position here in Indiana government,” reports Indiana Farm Bureau state government relations director Bob Kraft.
Each of Indiana’s 1,008 townships has a trustee, who is the chief administrator of the township government.
The township trustee is the chief administrator of the township government. The trustee is also the assessor in townships with populations of less than 5,000. In townships with population between 5,000 and 8,000, the township has the option of the trustee serving as assessor, or it can elect an independent assessor. Townships with more than 8,000 residents elect a separate assessor.
“Of the top 10 largest units of local government in Indiana, two actually are townships – Center Township in Marion County and Calumet Township in Lake County.”
Trustees are also responsible for public assistance, fire protection, and emergency services. “Statewide, about 55 percent of the township budgets goes toward fire protection and emergency services. They also serve in providing parks and recreation, as well as cemetery maintenance.”
“There are three areas that are particularly important in rural Indiana,” Kraft noted. “In these areas, trustees serve as fence viewers, responsible for resolving disputes regarding partition fences between neighbors. They also administer the weed laws in those counties without weed boards.”
Township trustees also administer the dog fund, established by the dog tax, which is paid to farmers and livestock owners who lose their livestock through will dog predation. “You would not think that is something that happens in Indiana, but it does,” Kraft said. “Trustees administer a number of dog damage claims every year.”
Townships themselves date back to the Land Ordinance of 1785. The Continental Congress sent surveyors out into the wilderness to break it into townships for administrative purposes. That early work serves as the basis for the townships of today.
Kraft says roughly 10 states have the township form of government, which itself dates back to medieval England.