Judge rules in town’s favor: 32 properties to join Cumberland

GREENFIELD — Thirty-two properties along west U.S. 40 will now be annexed into Cumberland, a judge has ruled.

Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow approved a request for nearly 300 acres of land on the county’s west side to be brought into Cumberland’s town limits, saying the 29 landowners fighting the seizure failed to prove they’d be adversely impacted.

Fifteen of the landowners filed a lawsuit against the town in 2015, opposing the annexation. The battle against Cumberland waged for two years before the groups went in front of a judge, with each side making their case during a bench trial last month.

The residents plan to appeal the judge’s decision, according to court records.

Members of the Cumberland Town Council first approved a measure to annex a section of unincorporated Hancock County land in January 2015.

Several property owners signed a petition against the proposal, citing concerns over increased property tax rates to cover the cost of police and fire protection, as well as possible fees for hooking up to town utilities. They filed a lawsuit in Superior Court 1 in May 2015.

Snow heard one day of testimony during the trial last month, then took the matter under advisement. He issued his ruling in the town’s favor Friday.

Residents will not be required to connect to the town’s sewer and water systems, officials said. Their properties will retain their existing Hancock County addresses but receive services, including fire and police protection, from Cumberland.

A few of the residents will pay increased taxes once annexed, the judge wrote in his ruling.

A financial expert who testified on behalf of the town during the trial said 12 of the 29 landowners would have no tax increase. Five more would see an increase of less than $100 annually, and six would see an increase of less than $300 annually, he said. Three parcels would be taxed more than an $400 extra each year, according to court documents.

Residents offered no expert testimony to the contrary, Snow wrote.

Cumberland Town Manager April Fisher said the addition of the land will increase the town’s size by 20 percent, allowing for future growth and development in the area, which is comprised mostly of farmland currently.

She said the land owners will see little change in day-to-day life. And when development opportunities arise, Cumberland will work in the best interest of residents, she said.

“We really hope the people who remonstrated against the town will come to find out their fears were not necessary,” Fisher said. “Our idea is to make the area friendly for pedestrians and residents through trails, through the sidewalks and a nicely laid-out streetscape.”

Residents have asked the judge to bar any changes to the area while they take the case to the state court of appeals, court records show.

Resident Mike Harrington, who fought the annexation, was dismayed by the ruling, saying he has already made plans to put his home up for sale next spring.

The 63-year-old has lived on 2.75 acres along U.S. 40, for the past 21 years. He said he worries being annexed into Cumberland will encourage crime from Marion County to head further east.

“I’m just fed up,” Harrington said. “I just don’t want that stuff coming our way.”

Neighbor Ken Stevens said he was shocked the judge decided to side with the town.

He’s among landowners who will see a property tax increase.

He said he worries about the financial impact not only on him but his neighbors.

“It’s a bad deal,” Stevens said. “You’ve got … people on fixed incomes who won’t be able to afford any kind of an increase.”

The land owners were represented in the case by Bob Bogigian of Greenfield. The town was represented by Darren Chadd of Indianapolis. Neither attorney returned a request for comment on this story.

Debate timeline

January 2015 — Cumberland Town Council first votes to annex 286 acres of unincorporated Hancock County land into town limits

May 2015 — Fourteen property owners who signed a petition against the annexation file a lawsuit against the town

May 2016 –Hancock County Superior Court I Judge Terry Snow decides to send the case to trial, giving town officials and residents a chance to argue their sides.

May 2017 – After several delays, Snow hears testimony in the case. He orders attorneys for both parties to submit written opinions while he mulls a final decision.

June 2017 – Snow announces his findings, ruling on behalf of Cumberland. The landowners file an appeal.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.