July 31, 2013

KITCHELL: 'Annexation light' not good public policy


---- — When should a community expand its borders and when shouldn’t it?

That’s a question with answers that vary depending on the community and the relationships between cities and residents in the outskirts just beyond the city limits.

Annexation makes perfect sense in communities when residents just outside the city limits already receive virtually all the benefits of living in an incorporated city without having to pay the taxes that make a city a city.

Unfortunately, the Logansport City Council’s passage of annexation ordinances to appease residents south of the city does not represent classic annexation. It represents what could be termed “annexation light” because it exempts the newest parts of the city from certain city requirements while assuring that the city will get its share of any economic growth there. This type of annexation errs on the side of the city, with residents who are annexed receiving no assurances that they’ll ever receive the full complement of city services the rest of the city residents do.

Another reason why annexation light is bad public policy is that it repeals some of what the city has already done to raise the standard of living for most of its residents. Lifting the ban on open burning for instance goes back to a time when the city allowed burning during the spring and the fall, primarily to rid property owners of dead limbs and leaves. That exemption ended when the city secured grant funding for Street Department equipment. One of the requirements of the grant was that open burning be banned in the city. What happens the next time the city applies for grant funding for similar equipment is anyone’s guess, but if allowing open burning in the new annexed areas is allowed, it creates a loophole that could hurt the city with future grants, not to mention annoy residents and employs of that area who have breathing difficulties such as lung disease, COPD or emphysema.

Annexation light is bad public policy because it gives newly annexed taxpayers a free pass in paying for city services the rest of city taxpayers pay for such as stormwater fees. This is particularly unusual because when a 100-year high rainfall hit Logansport a decade ago, the area hardest hit was the south side. Now many of the people who live a block or two from those hardest hit areas will pay nothing for relieving the burden of flooded streets for their neighbors in portions of the south side and other parts of the city.

Stormwater also is an issue because one of the major contributors to stormwater problems is the proliferation of parking lots that limit the absorption area in the city. If much of the area south of the city is developed with driveways, parking lots and roads as the new four-lane Hoosier Heartland Corridor opens, stormwater will become a greater issue, yet there will be no stormwater funds collected from those residents to pay for any problems that result from development. People who live a mile away from that development in the city will be paying for it and residents in the new annexed areas won’t be paying a dime.

Annexation light is poor public policy because it opens up another can of worms. It potentially creates jealousy between residents in different areas of the city who may seek to be exempt from some of the very same limitations the newly annexed residents will not have. In short, it creates inequality in tax fairness.

Where annexation makes the most sense is where utility lines already exist and where the city is naturally progressing because of roads, housing, schools, shopping centers and stand-alone stores and industrial areas.

That’s just not the case this time around, and it’s the reason why many local homeowners and business owners are displaying red-and-white signs that simply read “Stop Annexation.”

One of the really unfortunate things about this type of annexation is that it could attach a negative connotation to any future Logansport annexation plans and steel the efforts of property owners who may be the next annexation targets of the city.

Annexation can expand a tax base, and should, but it can also generate angst that limits a city’s growth in the end.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at