Judge to rule on proposed Cumberland annexation

CUMBERLAND – A judge will decide this month whether the town of Cumberland may draw about 300 acres of rural Hancock County land into its town limits — an annexation being opposed by a handful of property owners.

The annexation — which would increase the town’s size by about 20 percent — affects 32 properties along the north and south sides of U.S. 40 between county roads 700W and 600W. Town officials argue the annexation is necessary to allow for future growth of the town, while landowners express concerns about increased taxes.

On May 24, a Hancock County judge will hear arguments from town officials and residents whose land would be annexed. If the judge approves the town’s plans, the 286 acres, most of which is made up of farm land, will be drawn into the town’s limits. Those properties would remain part of Hancock County but see their addresses changed from Greenfield to Cumberland.

But if the judge rules the residents who oppose the move will be affected unfairly by the town’s proposal to expand its town limits, the case could go to trial.

Since the town council approved the expansion in January 2015, 14 property owners in the affected area have contested the effort, arguing the annexation will likely increase property taxes in the area.

Any increase to their property taxes would be for receiving Cumberland services, including police patrols and fire runs, town officials said.

Joe Siefker, president of the Cumberland town council, said the land is a natural choice for the growing community to expand.

Cumberland, which sits on the Hancock-Marion county line, has little room for development on the Marion County side of town, which has led town officials to set their sights east, Siefker said.

Extending sewer lines to the area will cost the town roughly $300,000 — not enough to entirely offset the estimated $274,000 in additional property taxes town officials expect to gain from the expansion.

But by securing the land, Siefker said the town will protect the area for future development, ensuring building designs align with the rest of the town’s architecture.

Eventually, Siefker expects to see businesses and commercial development sprout up along the corridor.

“It’s the only natural growth for the town,” he said. “Everything’s built up on the Marion County side.”

If the town succeeds with the annexation, businesses that choose to build on the land would be held to stricter design standards than Hancock County’s policies now allow, said town planning and development director Christine Owens.

Dan Marlatt, one of the property owners in the affected area who has challenged the annexation, said he worries how the planned expansion will affect his pocketbook.

The area is already well-served by township fire and police services, Marlatt said, and he sees no advantage to joining the town.

“Cumberland’s reaching too far out of their boundaries,” he said.

In 2014, the town approved a 182-acre eastward annexation along U.S. 40 between county roads 800W and 700W, which received little opposition from residents and business owners.

State lawmakers passed reforms in 2015 that made it more difficult for towns to annex land, requiring towns to halt annexation if 65 percent of landowners sign a petition against the proposal.

The new rules don’t apply to Cumberland’s proposed annexation, however, because it was initiated by council members in 2014 before the new standards took effect.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.