40 Years After Unigov: Indianapolis and Marion County’s experience with consolidated government

May 2014 / Abell-Supported Research / Community Development

The idea of government reform through city/county consolidation has long captured the imaginations of business leaders and civic elites, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, leading to one of the most vibrant periods of merger activity in the nation’s history. During this time, three of the 75 largest cities in the country, Nashville, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida; and Indianapolis, Indiana, merged with their surrounding county. The goals of city/county consolidations often focused on economic development, government reform, sustaining the tax base, and the implementation of a unified vision for the metropolitan region.

In the late 1960s, the political and business establishment of Indianapolis and Marion County used the economic development argument, among others, to consolidate their governments into a single jurisdiction known as Unigov. Established by legislative action in 1970, this city/county consolidation stands out as the only major post-war consolidation to be accomplished without a voter referendum. This report considers Indianapolis’ experience under 40 years of consolidated government to better understand both the benefits and potential drawbacks of unified government in general and the Unigov model in particular.