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If there’s a possible annexation in your future, keep IFB in the loop

—By Katrina Hall
Public Policy Team

As Indiana Farm Bureau staff focuses their efforts to help members deal with the recent rash of annexation proposals occurring across the state, we need to hear from you.

If you see something, say something. This is the current catch phrase for reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement. Some would say it’s a stretch to compare a proposed annexation to the threats contemplated in the “See something, say something” warning, but to those in the path of an annexation, the pangs may be just as real and the consequences may be as long lasting.

On March 31, a group of landowners whose property lies along SR 4 connecting an interchange on the new US 31 bypass to Lakeville attended an open house where the town board and their consultants answered questions about an annexation proposal. I attended the meeting and walked away with some lasting impressions of the local dynamics in an annexation process.

The stated goal of the Lakeville annexation is to provide for orderly development along the SR 4 corridor and fulfill objectives of the town’s master plan that was adopted in back 2011. The master plan mentions the creation of a tax increment financing (or “TIF”) district that would capture all new taxes in the annexed area which has a few homes but is unmistakably farmland. A TIF district captures taxes that would otherwise go to the county, township, library and the local school district with the most to lose.

The Lakeville master plan lays out the goal of redirecting captured TIF revenues away from the annexed area to improve the current downtown corridor on what will become “old US 31.” Landowners present at this meeting had no idea that others were making plans for their property three years ago.

While these objectives may have a broad public purpose, the thing that struck a nerve was the complete disregard for the plans and goals of the landowners in the annexation area. There was no understanding of what farmers sacrificed to accumulate acres and build a working farm. The value of generational landownership wasn’t on the radar of these well-meaning local officials. Since the new road is complete, the impact of new terrain road land acquisition and disruptive construction was off their radar.

This was an informal meeting not required by law, but shouldn’t landowners who cannot vote for those proposing an annexation have a notice, a formal opportunity or at least a forum to voice their opinion about the future use of their land? It seemed as though the town board should have realized that their neighbors, the people they have known for years, have concerns.

But if the proposal moves forward, do landowners have an effective way to determine their future? Indiana’s law on involuntary annexation and surrounding case law basically gives landowners little chance to stop the process. Sensing resistance at this meeting, the town board’s consultants said concessions could be made to current landowners who consented to voluntary annexation. The annexation laws simply must change.

Farmers within a few miles of an annexation may think they will not be affected, but the “2-mile fringe” of even very small towns pushes out proportionately when an annexation occurs. Towns are being advised to look far beyond their borders to their area of urban influence which hardly seems appropriate for rural Indiana. No one in rural Indiana thinks they can live without the goods and professional services that are generally congregated within a municipality, but it’s time to remember that the people and economic activity inside the town are supported by the rural areas already through the normal course of commerce.

Even though legislative efforts to curb involuntary annexation failed by a couple of votes in the Senate last month, it is important for farmers across the state to be paying attention to any chatter or official notice about a proposed annexation in their area. Please email me at khall@INFB.org with any details about annexations occurring near you. We have a lot of work to do with legislators this summer.

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