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Senator tries to fix Greenwood merger problems

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State Sen. Brent Waltz hopes new legislation on local government mergers will mend fences in his home of Johnson County while saving other Indiana communities a series of headaches.

"We're beginning to see the issues of Johnson County repeating themselves in other parts of the state," Waltz said. In Hendricks County, a committee formed last year to study the merger of Brownsburg and Lincoln and Brown townships.

Waltz, a Republican from Center Grove, found himself in an uncomfortable spot as debate over the proposal to merge Greenwood and White River Township heated up last year. His uncle is Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson, who wanted the merger. However, Waltz's friend and former campaign chairman is Scott Swartz, whose family owns—and would like to develop—farmland near Stones Crossing Road in unincorporated White River Township. Swartz's parents last year sued Greenwood over lack of notification about an annexation that affected their land.

Greenwood's proposed merger sparked debate on several points, the foremost being the impact on property taxes. A study committee concluded that taxes would increase for residents of the unincorporated area, but an opposing analysis said the hike would be bigger than the pro-merger group predicted.

Waltz's bill requires local merger committees to submit their fiscal-impact analysis to the state Department of Local Government Finance, which would review and publish comments on its website. The local governments would have to pay for the state's expenses.

Waltz also addressed other issues that came up in the Greenwood merger debate, which goes back to 2008. One snafu that arose in the final leg of the process virtually killed the proposal.

The White River Township Board and Greenwood Common Council each approved a merger plan last summer with the intent of having it certified in time for the November general election. The merger would have required approval from a majority of voters in both the city and unincorporated area, so it had to go on a general-election ballot.

Greenwood City Attorney Shawna Koons said that, although the township board signed off on the plan in June, proper paperwork didn't make its way to Greenwood until after noon on Aug. 1, which meant that it missed a deadline for certification of 90 days prior to the election.  

Greenwood argued that the Johnson County Election Board could still apply the local-government-reorganization statute, which provides for a 60-day deadline, but the board applied the 90-day rule. That means the question was left off the ballot in November and would not be eligible again until the next general election in November 2012.

Waltz said he wanted to resolve the conflicting state statutes, so he set the deadline at 90 days, which is the same as for other ballot questions. His bill also allows local governments to hold special elections on merger questions. (Local governments would have to shoulder the expense.)

Unfortunately for Greenwood's merger plan, another issue arose in January, after the election of a new slate of trustees in White River Township. One of the new board's first acts was to adopt a resolution repealing White River's support of the merger.

Greenwood thinks the township board's first action approving the merger plan should stand, but that's one issue Waltz's bill doesn't address, Koons said. "We might still be up in the air about what's going to happen with us."

Waltz's bill also weighs in on where votes should be counted. Under Greenwood's plan, people who live in the part of White River Township that's already in the city limits would have their votes counted in Greenwood. Waltz's bill calls for all votes by a township's residents to count for the township.

Waltz, who would have voted against a merger, said he isn't trying to influence the outcome of an election. A merger eliminates township government, so he thinks it's only fair that all of a township's residents have their votes counted with the township. In any case, he thinks the merger question would have failed in both White River Township and Greenwood. "Anecdotally, there seemed to be more people in opposition to the merger."

Waltz believes Greenwood's merger effort was particularly contentious because it coincided with annexation battles with Bargersville, a tiny town south of unincorporated Center Grove. "These two issues poisoned the well on each other," he said.

The Indiana Supreme Court will soon settle at least one of Greenwood's feuds. Oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday in a case over the annexation of land around Stones Crossing Road and State Road 135.

The fight started when Bargersville moved to annex the land, which is within three miles of Greenwood's city limits, without seeking special permission from the residents or landowners. Bargersville argued that wasn't necessary, since homeowners had signed waivers as part of their sewer-service agreements years earlier.

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  • Cherry Picking
    Both the Greenwood Merger and the Bargersville Annexation are responses to the 1% property tax cap. Instead of "tightening the belt" on lost future revenues, both localities are spreading their borders so they can pick up a larger tax base and continue to expand their governments.

    The development will lead to GW and BV picking and choosing which areas their sewer lines run through for primarily commercial development, and the areas they don't want to invest money into will be left behind (namely residential property) and will eventually cause erosion of property values all the abandoned homeowners. If we do nothing, Center Grove will likely cease to exist.

    There is a third option - we could unite as a community and Center Grove could become a town of approx 40,000 preventing the community from being torn in two. We urge everyone to consider keeping Center Grove together by visiting CitizensForCenterGrove.org and finding out what we can do as residents of Center Grove.

    Regards,
    Citizens For Center Grove
  • county elections
    what does voting in county elections matter here lance? NO they either want to live in town or they do not. They live in town when involuntarily annexed. My point is leave people alone that want to be left alone. The county services the area just fine.
  • How does this help
    Hey Waltz how does charging local municipalities help? How does engaging the DLGF in anything help? What do the Greenwood merger and the Brownburg merger have in common? nothing... so how does this comparison help? Do your job and balance the state budget and please stay out of local politics
  • Vision
    Charlie was unable to see a smaller government for the city of Greenwood despite the message coming from citizens and the Legislature that government has to get smaller. That's his lack of vision.

    As far as citizens not wanting to be governed, they should have voted wiser in their county elections. That's their fault - they may not have wanted to live in a city, but they do now.
    • What Killed the Merger
      I don't think the Mayor's "lack of vision" killed it, I think it was residents reading of his vision of a bigger Greenwood with crushing debt, using Center Grove residents as source of funds.
      • add protection for the little guy
        There are a number of things that killed this merger. Good for Brent, let no other governing body waste this much resources. But how do you protect citizens that do not want to be governed? Who represents the people that just want to be left alone. This merger or the annexations are nothing but a revenue stream. The 4 million dollar lift station that jumps over Bargersville sewer lines just so greenwood can say they service an area. A lift station that must be moved once 135 expands.
        why not put something int he bill that protects the citizens from overreaching town councils or mayors.

      • Not the true fix
        The real fix for the Greenwood merger proposal would be to change the occupant of the Greenwood mayor's office. His "leadership" and lack of vision is what killed the Greenwood/WRT merger.

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