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Instead of saying, "That's the way it's always been," officials in Middletown and Henry County's surrounding Fall Creek Township are taking a more enlightened approach to local government.

They're asking "What if?"

What if local government could be unified for more accessible, more consistent services and better stewardship of local tax dollars?

Specifically, the town and township are moving toward consolidation to better finance fire protection and, essentially, to shut down an antiquated form of government.

Townships across Indiana cost Hoosiers nearly $500 million a year to provide poor relief, fire protection and upkeep of abandoned cemeteries.

In late 2018, The Herald Bulletin published CNHI News Indiana's sweeping report on widespread problems with townships. The award-winning investigative series found that nearly $400 million in tax money was sitting unused in township coffers, that township government officials were often disengaged from citizens, and that Hoosiers had little contact with and knowledge of townships.

A decade earlier, a special panel assembled by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to study local government across Indiana had recommended that townships be abolished. The panel found that the system was outdated and prone to nepotism.

While the state Legislature has failed to act directly on the panel's recommendation, lawmakers in 2008 did pass legislation enabling towns and townships to consolidate.

Yorktown and Zionsville in central Indiana have taken advantage of that option. Otherwise, communities have failed to pursue it, instead protecting paid, elected positions in townships and going about their business as usual.

Government officials in Middletown, though, have decided to give consolidation a try.

An explanatory public meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday at the Middletown Municipal Building. That will be the beginning of a process leading up to the May 2020 election, when the consolidation referendum would be posed on the ballot.

“We want to pool our resources and be as efficient as possible in spending tax dollars,” Fall Creek Township Trustee Steve Thompson said.

According to the consolidation plan, the trustee's position — as well as the township advisory board — would eventually disappear. A larger community with one, unified government, would emerge.

That outcome is about a year away, but it's within sight for the people of Middletown.