City-county consolidation in Indianapolis is not a one-community, one-government system. Although the consolidation was named “Unigov” for “unified government,” Marion County retains some 50 separate local governments (down from 60 in 1967), and the number of separate taxing units has grown since 1970 to over 60. In some respects, the Unigov structure is even more complicated than the system it replaced.

Marion County Courthouse, City County Building, 1961
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The Unigov legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in 1969 provided a new legal status for Indianapolis. Previously designated as the state’s only First-Class City on the basis of its population (originally set at 250,000 but later increased to 600,000 by the Assembly), Indianapolis became the state’s only Consolidated City with the Unigov Act specifying the Consolidated City’s governmental structure and authority.

The outer boundaries of the Consolidated City of Indianapolis are contiguous with those of Marion County. Unigov reorganization in 1970 expanded the Consolidated City’s territorial jurisdiction from 82 to 402 square miles, increased its population from approximately 480,000 to 740,000 residents, and enlarged its electorate from about 293,000 to 406,000 registered voters. The Unigov law, however, prohibited the annexation of territory in neighboring counties, which had been a concern of those residents.

The legislative body for this new Consolidated City was a 29-member City-County Council, which replaced the Indianapolis COMMON COUNCIL and the Marion County Council. Twenty-five of the City-County councilors represent single-member districts; an additional four were elected at large; however, those positions were abolished by state legislation effective January 1, 2016 [Senate Enrolled Act 621]. All City-County Council seats are up for election every four years, during the municipal elections held in Indiana the year before presidential election years. There is no limit on the number of terms a City-County councilor may serve. The City-County Council adopts budgets, levies taxes, makes appropriations, amends local laws and ordinances, and appoints people to boards and commissions

The City-County Council also appoints a clerk, who serves a one-year term and serves at the pleasure of the Council. The previous separately elected position of city clerk was eliminated in the Unigov reorganization.

The executive branch of the Consolidated City is headed by the mayor, who is elected county-wide at the same four-year intervals as the City-County Council. Following an amendment to the Unigov legislation in 1983, there is now no limit to the number of terms the mayor may serve. Within the office of the mayor are deputy mayors with responsibilities for certain policy or programmatic areas, which have included neighborhoods, education, international and cultural affairs, and economic development. The mayor appoints all deputy mayors and department directors, as well as the heads of some of the divisions within departments, subject to confirmation by the City-County Council. Once confirmed, appointees serve at the pleasure of the mayor. The mayor may veto legislative actions taken by the City-County Council subject to an override by a vote of two-thirds of the council. The mayor may veto line items within the Consolidated City budget ordinance but may not veto the budgets or appropriations for certain constitutionally required county offices, the courts, or some independent municipal corporations retained under the Unigov structure. As of 2001, charter school legislation gave the mayor authority to charter schools within the city; the schools are overseen by a charter school board appointed by the mayor.

Below the office of the mayor, the executive branch of the Consolidated City is organized into six administrative departments. The original design for the Unigov reorganization called for eight departments, but political opposition led to the cancellation of plans for a Department of Local Government Organization and for the inclusion of the HEALTH AND HOSPITAL CORPORATION in a Department of Public Health. The six that remained were the departments of Administration, METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT, PARKS AND RECREATION, Public Safety, PUBLIC WORKS, and Transportation. Each of these departments contained divisions, and some of the divisions were further subdivided into sections.

As of 2016, however, the departments include the Department of Code Enforcement (DCE) which includes assorted bureaus and divisions for the application of civil code regulation, licensing, inspection, and enforcement; the Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD), which includes commissions and sections that address city planning, neighborhoods, investment, and historic preservation; Parks and Recreation, which oversees parks, greenspaces, trails, and recreation opportunities; Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD); Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD); and the Department of Public Works (DPW), which maintains roads, the stormwater program, fleet services, and trash and recycling services. The Department of Public Safety was eliminated in 2016 when the police and fire departments were separated into their own departments. Each of the departments has a director or chief appointed by the office of the mayor and an appointed board to oversee operations.

Prior to the Unigov reorganization, 16 independent special-purpose municipal corporations performed local government functions over varying territorial jurisdictions within Marion County. The six Unigov departments within the Consolidated City’s executive branch subsumed some of these municipal corporations, making them either departments or divisions within departments. Among these were: the Air Pollution Control Commission, the HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, the Indianapolis Department of Flood Control, the INDIANAPOLIS HOUSING AUTHORITY, the Indianapolis Parks and Recreation Department, the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission, the METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION, and the Metropolitan Thoroughfare Authority.

Monon Trail, 2021
Credit: Lukas Flippo/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Six of the independent municipal corporations remain outside the direct governance of the Consolidated City: the CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BOARD operates the INDIANA CONVENTION CENTER, LUCAS OIL STADIUM, VICTORY FIELD, and GAINBRIDGE FIELDHOUSE; the INDIANAPOLIS-MARION COUNTY BUILDING AUTHORITY operates municipal properties; the HEALTH AND HOSPITAL CORPORATION of Marion County operates the public health department, Eskenazi Health Hospital, and the Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services; the INDIANAPOLIS AIRPORT AUTHORITY operates the Indianapolis International Airport, four regional airports, and a downtown heliport; the Indianapolis Public transportation Corporation oversees the IndyGo system; the INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY operates the downtown Central Library and 24 branches throughout the county; and the Indianapolis Public Improvement Board Bank (Bond Bank) founded in 1985 to be the “debt issuance and management arm” of city government. These units remain separate local governments, although they come under the indirect control of the Consolidated City in two ways: their governing boards are appointed according to different formulas by the office-of-the-mayor and Council (or county officials), and their budgets are subject to varying degrees of review by the office-of-the-mayor and Council.

The six independent municipal corporations are by no means the only local government units left out of the city-county consolidation known as Unigov. Marion County continues to exist as a separate governmental entity, but with limited powers. The elected county offices of assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner, prosecutor, recorder, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer all remain, each elected county-wide in presidential election years. The Marion County Board of Voter Registration, the Marion County Department of Public Welfare, and the Marion County Election Board retain separate existence as well.

The Frank & Katrina Basile Pavilion in from of Eskenazi Hospital, 2021
Credit: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The MARION COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, who used to function as a collective executive for the county, are no longer elected separately. The Marion County assessor, auditor, and treasurer now serve ex officio (and without additional pay) as the Marion County Commissioners. Most of the county-wide executive functions that used to reside with the county commissioners have been transferred to the office of the mayor. Indeed, under a 1972 amendment to the Unigov legislation, all powers of the county commissioners now belong to the office of the mayor’s office save for those already transferred to the City-County Council, those relating to bonds previously issued, or those given to the commissioners directly by the Indiana Constitution.

The Consolidated City structure also does not include the Marion County court system (See Courts in Marion County). The jurisdictions and judicial selection processes of the Marion County Circuit Court, Municipal Courts, Small Claims Courts, and Superior Court were not affected by Unigov, although the budget for the court system is subject to review by the City-County Council.

IndyGo bus in downtown Indianapolis, 2021
Credit: Lawrence Andrea / USA TODAY NETWORK

Marion County’s nine TOWNSHIPS continue as separate governments, with independently elected township assessors, constables, and trustees. The nine township trustees still administer poor relief within their respective jurisdictions. The eight townships around the outside of Marion County (i.e., excluding CENTER TOWNSHIP) also are the territorial basis for eight of the county’s eleven separate public school districts (the other three being Indianapolis Public Schools and the school systems in the city of Beech Grove and the town of Speedway). Five of the township fire departments, excluding Decatur, Pike, and Wayne, have merged with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Indianapolis, of course, was not the only municipality in Marion County at the time of Unigov reorganization. The Unigov law excluded from the Consolidated City any incorporated city other than Indianapolis and any incorporated town with a population over 5,000. This stipulation singled out the cities of Beech Grove and Lawrence, and the town of Speedway. Subsequently by incorporating as a city just before the Unigov law took effect on January 1, 1970, Southport also attained exclusion from the Consolidated City. These four municipalities, known as the “EXCLUDED CITIES,” retain their own government structures intact and provide several municipal services directly to their residents. Because they pay taxes to the county and receive county services, voters in the excluded cities also may vote for the Consolidated City office of the mayor and for a district City-County councilor.

The other incorporated municipalities within Marion County at the time of the Unigov reorganization are known as the “INCLUDED TOWNS.” Although included within the Consolidated City, the towns may retain their governmental status, levy property taxes, and provide local services. Some of the included towns still have a town board, and some retain a town marshal, but most included towns have not remained actively functioning governments. If an included town has a functioning town board that enacts town ordinances, these must not conflict with ordinances of the Consolidated City. The City-County Council must approve the issuance of general obligation bonds by an included town. As of 2021, the included towns are Clermont, Crows Nest, Homecroft, Meridian Hills, North Crows Nest, Rocky Ripple, Spring Hill, Warren Park, Williams Creek, and Wynnedale.

The continued existence of the county, the townships, the school districts, the excluded cities, the included towns, and six of the special purpose municipal corporations means that the Consolidated City of Indianapolis is far from being the only provider of municipal services in Marion County. It also means that the territory within Marion County over which the Consolidated City provides services varies from one service to another (see UNIGOV AND SERVICE DELIVERY). Some Consolidated City services extend over the territory of the Consolidated City (i.e., Marion County minus the excluded cities), others extend county-wide, and still others extend over areas that correspond with none of the above. This complex assortment of service providers is one area in which critics of Unigov generally agree–that consolidation has not simplified or streamlined local government.

Key components of the Unigov structure that allow for the provisions of Consolidated City services over different portions of Marion County are SPECIAL SERVICE DISTRICTS and SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICTS. Within the Consolidated City governmental structure are several Special Service Districts and Special Taxing Districts, each performing a local government function over a specified domain, financed by a levy upon the residents within that area. For example, the Indianapolis Police Department, originally served the Police Special Service District, an area somewhat larger than the “old city” but not as extensive as the Consolidated City. Outside the Police Special Service District, Marion County residents received police protection from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department or from the municipal force of an excluded city. However, in 2007, the Indianapolis Police Department and the sheriff’s law enforcement deputies were consolidated into the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) under control of the sheriff and provided police services county-wide; in 2008 control of IMPD was passed to the office-of-the-mayor. By contrast, the Department of Transportation is a county-wide Special Taxing District. The boundaries of Special Service and Special Taxing Districts may be adjusted by the City-County Council and the office of the mayor, subject to the provisions of the Unigov Act.

The use of the Special Service and Special Taxing District devices, in combination with the remaining local governments in Marion County, adds considerable complexity to the Unigov structure, as well as to public finance within the Consolidated City. A resident in a given location in Marion County may receive services from, and pay taxes for, several of these districts within the Consolidated City, plus county offices, a township, a school district, and special-purpose municipal corporations (see UNIGOV AND PUBLIC FINANCE). 

Revised October 2021
 

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