Zionsville, Perry Township move toward consolidation

Zionsville could remain a town and gain an elected mayor if residents approve a government reorganization plan that’s speeding toward a November vote.

Town Council members voted 6-1 on Monday to keep working on the plan to join forces with Perry Township in southeastern Boone County. Township officials unanimously adopted a similar measure last week.

A draft proposal calls for bringing about 1,100 residents and 20 square miles of Perry Township property into the town, eliminating a layer of government and delivering services more efficiently.

Because it’s being handled as a reorganization rather than an annexation, the move would allow Zionsville to shift elected officials’ responsibilities, adding a mayor as the town’s chief executive. The Town Council would retain legislative duties.

It’s a natural next step for the growing community, Council President Jeff Papa said Monday, helping it compete with its suburban neighbors without making the “emotional” leap from town to city.

Zionsville was the first community in the state to take advantage of Indiana’s Government Modernization Act in 2010, completing a merger with Union and Eagle townships that added 12,000 residents and 50 square miles of mostly rural territory.

The town now has a population of about 25,000.

If officials can iron out the details of the Perry Township deal in time to meet an end-of-month deadline, the new reorganization plan would be on the November ballot. The changes would take effect Jan. 1 if a majority of voters approved the measure.

Residents wouldn’t elect a mayor until the regular election cycle in 2015, however. The preliminary proposal calls for the council to appoint a member to hold the office on an interim basis, leading the reorganization efforts.

The interim mayor would not be eligible to run in the first mayoral election.

Supporters say the town needs a full-time executive empowered to make decisions on its behalf. Currently, appointed Town Manager Ed Mitro oversees day-to-day affairs at the direction of the part-time council.

Bringing in Perry Township would produce about $2.5 million in revenue for the town, according to a preliminary fiscal analysis, without many more expenses. Boone County takes care of roads and public safety in Zionsville’s rural districts, Papa said, keeping costs—and the resulting tax burden—relatively low.

“There’s a slight dollar benefit, but that’s not the aim of this,” Papa said. “These people are our neighbors and they want to do this.”

Although the area is largely agricultural now, suburban growth patterns suggest the township will be developed eventually. Reorganizing now eliminates the risk of forced annexation by another municipality later.

Councilor Tom Schuler played devil’s advocate, questioning the proposal and the behind-the-scenes process that got the reorganization talks started. He cast the lone “no” vote on a pair of resolutions advancing the plan.

“What are the benefits to the people who elected us to office?”  he asked.

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