Westfield Washington Township cancels plans for $15M park bond

The Westfield Washington Township board on Tuesday canceled plans to borrow up to $15 million to purchase land for park space after some residents launched an effort in opposition to the bond.

The decision came in a 2-1 vote to cancel a series of bonds township leaders planned to use to acquire land for open green space and natural areas.

Trustee Danielle Carey Tolan previously told IBJ that as Hamilton County continues to grow at breakneck speed, it’s important to preserve green space, something she feels Westfield Washington Township is lacking.

In 2016, the township drafted a strategic plan using input from residents to guide it. Those who responded to a township survey (363 people took the survey, but not all of them were Westfield Washington Township residents) expressed a strong desire to preserve and grow green space, Tolan said. Later, the township approved a resolution to purchase land in an area north of State Road 38, south of 216th Street, east of U.S. 31 and west of Hinkle Road.

After the township board in October approved a $15 million bond series, a group of residents filed a remonstrance, collecting 569 signatures from registered voters or property owners opposed to the bond.

Then, on Dec. 12, the township board voted 2-0 to move forward with the bond despite the remonstrance, which required the township and residents opposed to the financing to collect signatures in favor of or opposed to the bond.

Each side would have had 30 days beginning Jan. 16, and the side that collected the most signatures would have essentially won, determining whether the township could borrow the money.

But Tuesday, during a board meeting, township board member David Gill made a motion to rescind the bond.

“This has caused a lot of animosity with the community, a lot of anger, and I think it’s time to cool off,” he said.

His motion was supported by new board member Erica Strahm, while Danyele Easterhaus voted against it.

Gill had previously cast the sole vote against the park bond when it originally went before the board in October.

“I’m confused by this odd move to rescind the bonds,” Westfield Washington Township Trustee Danielle Carey Tolan said in written comments. “It’s disappointing that the will of the people cannot be heard and acted upon through the democratic process set forth through the remonstrance.”

About 40 residents packed the township board meeting room Tuesday morning. Some asked the board to continue with the bond petition process to let the public make the decision, while others encouraged them to support Gill’s motion.

During the meeting, Strahm said residents have been concerned about a lack of public input throughout the process and specific details.

She also said she is concerned about the impact the bond would have on the tax bills of lower income residents.

The township had told residents the first bond would cost a typical homeowner about $4 more a year, but only homeowners who have houses with gross assessed values of $110,000 and less within city limits and $143,000 and less in unincorporated areas would see higher taxes, thanks to property tax caps.

Strahm said if the township wants to see how residents feel about the bonds, they should send the issue to the ballot through the referendum process. That way every voter would have a say, and the tax impact would be felt equally among all residents, she said.

But Easterhaus implored her fellow board members to continue with the signature drive.

“I ask you as board members to at least stay this–what I would consider a ridiculous motion—to rescind the bond and move forward with the remonstrance process and allow the citizens to do what they do best.”

After the vote, she said “shame on you” to Gill and Strahm, and told residents to “remember this day.”

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