Bill would put bigger burden on cities seeking annexations

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The Indiana Legislature is considering changing the state's annexation laws by putting a greater burden on cities to do outreach in areas where they want to grow.

Supporters say the only way a city should be able to annex property is if the majority of landowners agree. Opponents, though, are worried legislators are gutting a key tool that municipalities use for growth and economic development.

"This turns annexation on its head in terms of how it has traditionally been done," Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, told The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne.

A compromise version of annexation legislation died in the House on Wednesday leaving the Senate bill under consideration.

Annexation has frequently been controversial because those being brought into a community see higher taxes, but don't have a way to vote against the plan or those who support it. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said annexation is simply another way for cities and towns to build their tax base.

"I think it's wrong," he said. "I think annexation law is getting modernized with this bill and I hope it passes. I don't like it unless it's a voluntary exchange between the property owner and government."

Current law requires the signatures of 65 percent of parcel owners in a proposed annexation area to oppose an annexation via a remonstrance. That sends the plan to a judge, who must decide if the city has followed the law procedurally.

Opponents of involuntary annexation say it puts the burden on landowners to organize and even raise money for a court battle. Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said the process is stacked against the landowners to start.

The Senate bill would require a city or town to get signatures of support from 51 percent of all parcel owners, or owners representing 75 percent of the assessed value, to start an annexation.

Matt Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said the legislation is a terrible approach because only a few landowners could block an annexation that many people want.

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