The past three years have brought significant positive change to Washington Township government, according to Trustee Christian Rust. “I am proud of the improvements my team and I have made to the office and how it serves the people of Washington Township. In particular, I think we have reimagined what it means to provide leadership at the township level and broadened what excellent service looks like.”
Rust noted improvements to the basic functions of the office, such as township assistance (formerly known as “poor relief”). “When we started, my predecessor left a paper ledger the size of a desk, and all the applications had to be filled out by hand. Today we’ve moved into the digital age and streamlined the process.” Rust also noted that under his leadership, the township began performing home investigations which had not previously been done, to validate the information provided by the client, and to ensure that the home was livable before putting tax dollars into the home. Rust added that for every $10 in assistance given, the client must perform an hour of community service, which must be completed before the client can ever receive assistance again.
Rust expressed gratitude for being permitted to move the office into the courthouse. This prominent office space allowed for dramatically improved hours, and increased access and transparency to the public, who previously were subject to short hours and limited availability.
Rust is particularly proud of his efforts with the United Nonprofits meetings, bringing nonprofits together to better serve those in need and reduce duplication of services. From those connections, Rust now refers clients to services that no longer come from township tax dollars. “By the end of my term, we will have referred over a million dollars in services, saving that money for taxpayers. This was a new idea that had never been done before in Washington Township.” For contrast, that’s approximately ten times as much assistance generated out of nonprofits than Rust’s predecessor awarded in total, using tax dollars. “Not only did we offer ten times as much assistance, we did it without tapping the taxpayer.”
Transparency was a key factor in Rust’s administration. “We’re required to have four meetings a year,I’m proud that we held an average of over eight meetings a year, a 180 degree turn from how my predecessor did business.” Additionally, Rust won the Distinguished Budget Presentation award from the Government Finance Officers Association, an international award for his budget presentation in 2021. This award is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. Washington Township is the third township to ever win this award in the US. And one of only six taxing units in the state to win it, none of the others are townships. This award was specifically given to recognize that Rust and his team had created the budget in a way that was accessible to the public and made information easy to ascertain.
In 2021, Rust was also recognized by his peers with the “Overachiever Award” given by the Indiana Township Association (ITA) for outstanding accomplishments during a trustee’s first term of office. Debbie Driskell, Executive Director of the ITA, said of Rust’s first three years of work, “Trustee Rust by far has outpaced most elected officials in the number of noteworthy achievements! Christian exemplifies so much of what the ITA represents: innovative, efficient, and effective servant-leadership.”
Another responsibility for trustees is fire protection. Rust reported having made substantial contributions to fire protection, including replacing three old fire trucks (up to 35 years old!) with two new trucks. Despite spending approximately 1.5 million dollars for those needed apparatus, Rust was pleased to have done so without raising taxes. Further improving public safety, the township will have added four weather sirens and increased siren coverage to 90% of the township population. Rust was also pleased to partner with Decatur County Right to Life to raise private dollars to implement the first “baby box” in Decatur County, hosted at Greensburg Fire Department.
Rust caught the township up on its responsibilities for cemeteries. Prior administrations failed to keep track of where bodies were buried, and Rust ensured with ground penetrating radar that future use of the cemeteries will not disturb our dearly departed neighbors, by keeping a permanent record.
“I’m very pleased that over my tenure, I’ve been able to explore and challenge the common perception of what a trustee is and does,” said Rust. “I was told when I took over that Lake McCoy is like the Wild West, lawless and dangerous. I have enjoyed working with the residents, but it has become apparent to me that the county government has woefully neglected Lake McCoy, to the detriment of the health and safety of its residents and neighbors, and ultimately, to the rest of the taxpayers in Decatur County.” As an example, Rust noted that a recent water sample for E. Coli at McCoy should be at or below 135 units, but in the six locations tested came in over 1,000 units at five, reaching as high as 2,382 units in one place. According to the Indiana DNR and IDEM, the dam needs to be repaired, the water treatment plant needs to be closed, the sewer lines must be removed. The Lake McCoy Conservancy District, nor Tena Inc the current owner of the water plant, are likely to have the funds to fix these issues. When they fail to make the fixes, the county is most likely going to be on the hook, said Rust, “And I worry that the cost will be in the millions of dollars.”
Using powers that a trustee has but doesn’t often exercise in Decatur County, Rust and his township board acquired decrepit properties at Lake McCoy from the county at a Commissioner’s Sale, in an attempt to clean up the properties and demonstrate what a path forward might look like to redeeming the potential at the lake. Rust even put together a proposal to fund a study that could be used by government agencies like the county or township and by private entities to determine the challenges, potential solutions, costs, and benefits at Lake McCoy in the future. “The hope was to help the residents of Lake McCoy and the private sector figure out as many of the problems as possible, instead of turning to government. I hoped we could save the county taxpayers a lot of future expenses by doing the planning early, and we figured out how to cover the cost of that planning without raising taxes,” said Rust. “I am proud of the work I’ve done to highlight that need, and to try to address it in novel and pragmatic ways.”
Finally, Rust noted that township taxes went down on his watch. “The City of Greensburg and Decatur County both raised taxes during this term of four years, but Washington Township taxes went down, all while providing dramatically improved services and long-term vision.”
Rust expressed gratitude for voters trusting him to run township government. “It’s been the honor of my life, but I have opportunities with my new business venture, Tree City Bee Company, which will demand my full attention. For that reason, and to focus on my family, I have decided to pass the torch to a new trustee, hoping they will carry on the good work, and wishing them well.”
Article submitted by Christian Rust