2019 Legislative Priorities: preventing towns from exceeding their authority

For many people, extraterritorial authority is an unfamiliar yet ominous-sounding concept. Rural Hoosiers are becoming familiar with it, however, because it’s a tactic increasingly used by cities and towns who want to control land use – and landowners – that are outside town limits.

“There have been several instances arising in Indiana in the past couple of years,” said Justin Schneider, Indiana Farm Bureau state government relations director.

Extraterritorial authority refers to the ability of a government to exercise authority beyond its normal boundaries. If a town wants to control activity – sometimes controversial activity – a few miles outside its boundaries, that town might try to claim extraterritorial authority.

It’s something that’s been “on our radar” for a while, Schneider said, which is why the INFB board of directors decided that “Reduce extraterritorial authority” should be a legislative priority in 2019.

Two major problems are associated with extraterritorial authority as a concept, Schneider noted.

“First, it means that land-use restrictions are placed on landowners by officials who they didn’t vote for – and won’t be able to vote against,” he said.

Second, it creates a system of dual regulations because a proposal that has been approved by county government might be overturned by town or city government.

“There is a county process,” he said. “There shouldn’t be multiple parties regulating the same land-use issue.” He added that it also limits a county’s economic development opportunities.

In Indiana, the concept so far has been used in attempts to regulate pumping of water, wind farms and mining, but it’s inevitable that its use will be expanded if the cities and towns that use it are successful.

“It’s going to be ag one of these days,” Schneider said. “There is a lot of interest from legislators and other organizations to finally address this problem.”