Carmel’s attempted annexation of Home Place back in court

After years of both parties agreeing to delay the case, the annexation battle between the city of Carmel and a small area in Clay Township known as Home Place is back in the courts.

Attorneys on both sides of the lengthy annexation battle that involves a 1,017-acre area of unincorporated Clay Township centered at 106th Street and College Avenue are now debating whether Home Place residents receive all the public services they need without assistance from Carmel.

The dispute started in 2004, when Carmel passed an ordinance to annex Home Place, which includes 2,200 residents, but the majority of landowners objected and filed a lawsuit to prevent annexation. In 2005, Hamilton County Superior Judge William Hughes ruled in favor of the property owners, saying Carmel didn’t prove it could financially afford to annex the area.

But, in 2007, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and the Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case and sent it back to the trial court for further review.

Both parties agreed to postpone any proceedings until Dec. 1, 2015, so they could wait and see how other annexation cases concluded, such as Fishers’ successful annexation of Geist.

State law requires citizens opposed to an annexation to prove they receive certain services, like police and fire protection and street maintenance, without the help of the municipality trying to annex the land.

The property owners also have to show that the annexation would have “a significant financial impact” on residents that it is not in the best interests of landowners and that it is opposed by at least 65 percent of the property owners.

Home Place residents currently receive police protection from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the streets are maintained by the county highway department.

But Carmel argues that city police assist the sheriff’s office and the city is responsible for patrolling the Monon Trail, which runs through the proposed annexation area.

Carmel also argues that given the location of Home Place, no one from the sheriff’s department can drive to or from the area without passing through Carmel.

"The city believes that this annexation will save taxpayers money through better efficiencies and by providing better governmental services," Carmel spokesman Dan McFeely said. "Having to rely on a deputy sheriff or a county highway department employee who has to travel from outside of Carmel to address needs in Home Place is not efficient and costs taxpayers more than necessary."

For fire protection, Clay Township technically provides the service, but does so by contracting with the Carmel Fire Department. The residents argue that it’s still the township’s responsibility, but the city points to the fact that Carmel firefighters are the ones responding to incidents in Home Place.

“The fire issue should be straightforward and dispositive,” attorneys Bryan Babb and Stephen Unger with Bose, McKinney & Evans LLP wrote on behalf of Carmel.

The property owners also still maintain that if their homes are annexed into Carmel, they will experience an immediate increase in property taxes, and the city has offered very little to show the benefits of being annexed.

“The landowners in Home Place do not fit the ‘Carmel’ mold,” attorney Stephen Buschmann of Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel wrote on behalf of the residents.

Carmel argues that the tax rate alone is not enough to prove a “significant financial burden” to the property owners. The city also argues that the residents haven’t shown that a majority of landowners oppose the annexation because the petition circulated years ago asked people to sign it, regardless of their position on the issue.

On top of that, the petition dates to 2005, so residents could have changed their opinions since then.

Matt Milam, who led the residential group that opposed to the annexation, rejects that argument and says the opinions in the small community haven’t changed.

“We’re not interested in becoming part of the city of Carmel and never will,” Milam said. “Home Place is in it for the long haul… We are confident that we’re going to win. We’re not giving up.”

The case is pending before Boone County Superior Judge Matthew Kincaid. Final arguments are due Friday, and McFeely said the city expects a decision within a few weeks.

But Milam said he believes the case will work its way through the appellate court and possibly the high court again.

“There’s no timeline, so it could take forever or it could be quick,” Milam said. “It will probably take forever.”

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