Residents, town take argument to court

Judge’s ruling anticipated in next few weeks

GREENFIELD — Ken Stevens made his point loud and clear.

Sitting on the witness stand Monday afternoon, speaking on behalf of many of his neighbors, Stevens told the judge he purposefully bought his home on Hancock County’s west side decades ago for the peace it offered. He didn’t want the hustle and bustle that accompanies a Marion County zip code; he desired quiet farmland, on which he still resides.

His desire has never wavered, Stevens said, voicing opposition to Cumberland town officials’ plans to draw his and about 30 other properties into town limits.

Landowners involved in the proposed annexation — a plan that would transfer nearly 300 acres of rural Hancock County land into Cumberland’s control — argued their sides before a judge Monday in a trial before Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow, who will ultimately decide the fate of the territory.

After a long day in court, landowners and Cumberland officials learned they’ll have to wait a bit longer to hear the fate of the annexation, which has been debated for nearly two and a half years.

Hancock County officials and longtime residents spent the day telling the judge of the time and money they’ve invested in the area in debate, which sits along the north and south sides of U.S. 40 between county roads 600W and 700W.

At the same time, Cumberland’s leaders tried to convince Snow — and the gallery full of property owners who turned out to watch the proceedings — that drawing the land into Cumberland would be beneficial to landowners.

After hearing testimony from both sides, Snow asked attorneys for both parties to submit written opinions to the court within one month, at which point he’ll mull a final decision.

Stevens — one of the last witnesses of the day — summarized his side’s issue with one simple sentence, which received agreeing nods from his neighbors who were listening on: He chose to live in an unincorporated area, and that’s where he’d like to stay, he said.

“I don’t want to be part of the town of Cumberland,” he said. “I had a chance to do that 30 years ago, and I declined. I can’t see any benefit to this.”

But Darren Chadd, an Indianapolis attorney representing the town, argued that joining the town’s limits posed little to no burden to the property owners opposed to the annexation.

Witnesses he called to the stand, which included staff members from Cumberland’s planning and building department, street and parks maintenance department and utility department, repeatedly stated that little about day-to-day life for residents would change.

Residents would not be forced to connect to the town’s utility lines. They would be served by the same police and fire officials who serve them now. And very few of the land owners would see any change to their property taxes; those who do would see an increase of less than $20 a month, according to testimony.

But there’s no guarantee in that, attorney Stephen Buschmann, who represents the residents, argued.

As he questioned town leaders and residents, Buschmann gave voice to his clients’ concern about the unknowns involved in annexations.

Going forward, there is no sure way to know exactly how the land around the houses in question will change, he said.

Attorneys must submit their final reports to the judge by June 8. Snow will an announce a final decision in the weeks that follow.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.