October 16, 2013

Annexation opponents sue city

Lawsuit: 78 percent of landowners in southeast territory oppose measure.

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — Landowners in one of Logansport’s proposed annexation territories south of the city opposing the annexation formally declared their remonstrance with a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

By a vote of 4-3, Logansport City Council authorized the annexation of two adjoining territories totaling about 2,600 acres south of the city in July.

Proponents of the annexation say their motivation is to harness the tax benefits of the economic development that is expected to spring up along the new Ind. 25 Hoosier Heartland Highway, which is scheduled to open for traffic Friday.

Lindsay Ruby, an attorney with Hirschauer & Hirschauer in Logansport, is representing the landowners living in the southwest annexation territory who oppose the annexation.

The suit states the hundreds of forms attached as an exhibit total 78 percent of the landowners in the southwest annexation area, exceeding the 65 percent required for a remonstrance by Indiana Code.

An ordinance adopting a fiscal plan for the proposed annexation prepared by Carmel-based Wabash Scientific Inc. and Seymour-based Reedy Financial Group, P.C. was approved on second reading by city council earlier this month.

The lawsuit cites the plan’s absence of information regarding the city’s intention to provide capital services to the proposed annexation areas. Among these services are sanitary sewer construction, storm sewer construction and water utility construction.

“The City of Logansport plans to garner a windfall in additional tax revenues, and will expend $0.00 for providing the capital services above, while placing the financial burden and administrative burden of obtaining any of the capital services above upon the newly annexed landowners,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit refers to a provision in Indiana Code requiring a city to provide capital services to annexed areas within three years.

Jason Stephenson, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Indianapolis office, was hired to assist the administration with its annexation plans. Stephenson said this three-year rule applies to procedures already in place by cities and Logansport does not have laws requiring it to provide these capital services, nor can it require annexed residents to obtain them.

Placing the payment for these capital services on the landowners of the proposed annexation area would result in significant financial impacts, the lawsuit goes on to allege, as would an expected increase in taxes for landowners if and when the annexation becomes complete.

Franklin contested this claim, pointing to the property tax exemption available to agriculturally zoned properties, which many properties in the proposed annexation area would receive.

Many residences in the proposed annexation area use septic systems, which are currently prohibited in city limits. Because of this, the suit states residents might be forced to bring portable toilets onto their property and be responsible for disposing of the waste at their own expense.

“If that’s the case, we’re more than willing to make an exception,” Franklin said, adding that an amendment to the legislation could be passed to allow for the continued use of septic tanks in the annexed area.

Ruby could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Stephenson said the next step will be to ensure the remonstrance has met all of the requirements regarding the signatures. A court hearing will take place within the next 60 days, he added, to determine whether the lawsuit will go forward.