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Whitestown, Zionsville pay $500K-plus in legal fees

October 1, 2015

More than a half million dollars has been spent to date by Whitestown and Zionsville in the ongoing legal battle between the two Boone County towns.

The case, which revolves around whether Zionsville has the authority to reorganize with Perry Township, is pending before the Indiana Supreme Court. Whitestown argues that Zionsville doesn’t meet the adjacency requirements to allow the merger.

Whitestown filed the lawsuit against Zionsville in spring 2014 as a way to protect its western border and its ability to grow as the town’s population increases. The town so far has paid about $359,000 to Bose McKinney & Evans LLP.

“That’s where we thought it would be if it went to the Supreme Court level,” Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton said, mentioning he expects the final costs to reach about $400,000. “It’s a short-term cost to alleviate long-term harm.”

Lawyers with the firm charge Whitestown rates ranging from $190-$420 per hour.

Expenses in Zionsville have been lower. The town has paid Barnes & Thornburg LLP close to $176,000.

Town Manager Ed Mitro said an hourly rate wasn’t available, because the town is billed monthly in a lump sum for multiple attorneys with varying rates.

Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa said the town didn’t have a choice in whether to spend the money because it wasn’t the party that filed the lawsuit.

“We didn’t choose to be in litigation,” Papa said. “But once somebody sued us, we had to defend the choice of the voters.” Zionsville residents approved the reorganization plan in November.

Jamie Palmer, senior policy analyst with the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, said she wasn’t surprised by the amount spent on legal fees. It’s a high-stakes case for both towns.

“It’s the long-term health of these communities,” Palmer said. “Obviously they’re both committed to trying to gain a good outcome for themselves.”

She said in some annexation cases, a municipality will reach a point where the expenses are too high, and it halts the challenge. But those cases usually involve less land and have less local significance.

“If these places weren’t growing, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal,” Palmer said. “I think it makes sense to spend that money.”

A trial court initially ruled in favor of Whitestown in a decision last October. Papa said he then decided to continue spending money on the case and take it to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

“The sooner it’s resolved, the better,” Papa said. “We didn't want to be in any litigation.”

Whitestown's Norton said the town questioned whether to accept the appellate court’s June ruling in favor of Zionsville, but decided the potential growth in assessed value from the land to west was worth the legal expenses.

“It has not necessarily put a burden on our budget,” Norton said.

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