INDIANAPOLIS — Local backlash appears to be growing over a new plan unveiled as state lawmakers returned to the Statehouse Tuesday that would abolish all township government across the state. A version of the plan was first recommended in late 2007 by a blue-ribbon commission co-chaired by former South Bend Mayor and Governor Joe Kernan (D) and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard (R). State Senator Connie Lawson (R-Danville) introduced the plan on the Senate floor in early 2009, but it failed to get a final vote. On Tuesday, Lawson and State Representative Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) introduced the bill again, though with slightly different starting points. Both the bills would take effect on January 1st, 2013. Both bills also began creating backlash with some St. Joseph County leaders right off the bat. Lawson's bill would eliminate township boards, putting county councils in charge of oversight on things like township fire protection instead. Delaney went a step further, filing a bill to replace township government entirely, in favor of a single county executive who would "advocate for the poor." Fire protection and poor relief are two main functions of township government, said Penn Township Trustee Jeff Dean. "We know we have a fight on our hands, and our job right now is to show people what township government does. 75,000 people are served by our poor relief in Penn Township. We provide fire protection for all of Penn Township, and we are an outlet for public input," Dean said. Losing that outlet, Dean says, would be a big mistake. "It would be a loss of people having a say in local government, because we are accountable to the voters. They elect us. And, if they don't like the job we're doing, they can get rid of us. This county executive is going to be appointed," Dean said. Pausing for a moment, Dean continued. "Township government is the closest government to the people. And, to turn that all over, to me, is utterly ridiculous," he said. But, DeLaney says the move could save the state millions of dollars. Some have estimated the initial savings could approach $200 million, though the Indiana Association of Townships disputes those figures. Governor Mitch Daniels (R) has agreed with DeLaney's assessment in the past, calling the current township system "wasteful and bureaucratic." But some county leaders in St. Joseph County say the plan would actually cost the county more money than it would save. They point to last year's elimination of most township assessors across the state as proof that consolidation doesn't always solve problems or increase coffers. "I think the assessors consolidation actually lost money," said St. Joseph County Commissioner Dave Thomas (D). "And, I wouldn't see any savings with the elimination of township government." What the bill would eliminate, Thomas argues, is accountability and access for taxpayers. "Local government is the best return on taxpayer dollars and the best protection of taxpayer rights. I'm sure nobody is opposed 100 percent to some kind of consolidations. This is just the wrong step," Thomas said. Still, others say that doesn't mean lawmakers shouldn't try to find savings where they can. "If it would actualize cost savings, then we certainly need to take a look at it," said St. Joseph County Commissioner Andy Kostielney (R). Even so, Kostielney isn't sold that the DeLaney or Lawson bills are a good fit for St. Joseph County. "If we could take all those budget functions and move them into the county budget, then there might be a way to actualize some savings there. But, we have to sit down and see if the numbers add up or don't add up. I think in some cases, we'll find it is redundant. But, at face value, I would say it has some major concerns," Kostielney said. "There are 92 counties, and they're all different," agreed Thomas. "This is something that should be evaluated on a case by case basis." Among the concerns, said Kostielney, is a lack of staff, resources and space in the county to take over township duties. Thomas fears that taxpayers in one township could also end up paying for services in another that they don't use. "Expenditures for poor relief and fire protection are paid for by the residents of that township. Some townships pay a lot for poor relief, such as Portage Township. Other townships--say Madison, for example--pay very little. Now, if it became a county-wide issue, there's the potential that some townships would be subsidizing other townships' poor relief and fire protection," Thomas said. "If your taxpayers had already paid for a fire truck, would you want that fire truck going to the other side of the county? I don't think so," Thomas continued. But, is that the final form the bill would take? Several groups--including the Indiana Township Association and Indiana Association of County Commissioners--plan to lobby lawmakers against it, said Thomas. But, other taxpayer watchdog groups are likely to lobby heavily in favor of the changes, eying cost savings to taxpayers. "Figure those out. Figure out how to streamline," said Dean. "But, don't take away the government that's closest to the people and does a good job for the people." This spring's "short session" ends on March 14th.