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Fortville ponders annexation of large area

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FORTVILLE — The town of Fortville is moving forward with an ambitious annexation plan that could add about 16 square miles of land west and southwest of the existing town limits.

Dubbed the Western Boundary Annexation, the project includes almost 6,000 acres. If approved, the town would roughly triple in size. Town officials believe the territory is the most likely to be developed in the near future.

“From Fishers down through to (Interstate 70), the western corridor makes sense. That’s where we see the growth coming,” town attorney Alex Intermill said. “We think that in the reasonably near future, that area is going to develop.”

On top of the potential growth and money that could come to the town, a key driving force behind the project is the race against pending legislation that would stymie efforts to annex the area later.

Senate Bill 376 limits the ability of towns to annex land. For any

annexation ordinance adopted after June 30, whether it’s one or more annexations, the cumulative increase of assessed value for the annexations cannot increase the town’s assessed value more than 15 percent in one year. The Western Boundary Annexation would exceed that, so town officials want to act now in case the bill becomes law.

Fortville’s gross assessed value of $98,599,860 would allow only for a very conservative annexation under the 15 percent rule. The estimated value of the annexation area is $53,541,420. If annexed, the western portion will increase the town’s assessed valuation by almost 53 percent.

This process is different from a voluntary annexation. The Western Boundary Annexation will be involuntary, which will require more steps and will include the expansion of local services.

Services offered by the town of Fortville, such as police

protection, roads and park space, are used not only by residents who live in town, but also serve a much larger area around the town, the thinking goes.

“There are a lot of services that communities provide to people that live outside of the town boundaries. So if we know that the growth in population and development is going to be to the west, (it makes) sense to bring that area into the town so that development pays for its fair share of the services it gets,” Intermill said.

The town is required, within one year, to extend non-capital

resources and services to the newly annexed portion, which in Fortville is primarily police protection. The capital services, such as road maintenance and utilities, must be offered within three years of annexation, according to state statute.

Intermill said the town would be able to easily meet those commitments.

Councilwoman Janet Manship said many services are already extended to the 600 residents in the annexation area.

“I think it’s important to recognize that many of these services are already being provided to people surrounding the town limits, (including) the use of our parks; (and) our police officers are probably the first responders in many instances,” Manship said.

Intermill noted that acquiring the 5,944 acres will not immediately put stress on the town’s existing resources.

“It’s not that the town has to run out there and pave the gravel roads; it’s not that the town has to run out there and put in a

sidewalk,” Intermill said.

But the town will never get a chance to implement those ideas if the area is not part of the town, he added. Yet the town would be responsible for fixing potholes and addressing similar issues. The fiscal plan lays it out: Additional money will be available because of the annexation to extend those services, and will also make the town more fiscally sound, according to Intermill.

“There is no question that the people who live in this annexation territory use the roads in the town of Fortville more regularly than, say, I do,” Intermill said. “They’re using the roads, they’re contributing to the maintenance costs and upkeep costs, but they don’t pay anything for that. This changes that. And that’s one of the reasons for annexation.”

He said acquiring the property would only be beneficial for Fortville.

“The town as a whole would be more financially stable and better off expanding this way.”

But town officials are prepared for residents not to see it that way.

“Annexation is not a fond term for most of the people surrounding the community,” Councilman Ron Stafford said.

A remonstrance against the Western Boundary Annexation is possible, and town leaders are aware it could happen. Intermill told the town council last week during a special meeting that remonstrances are rarely successful, and that such backlash on this project could cost

the town somewhere between $35,000 and $50,000 – depending on the arguments made – in legal fees. The expense to the town includes lawyer fees and defense of the fiscal plan.

If the reaction to an attempted annexation just over the line in Madison County is any indication, however, the town could be in for a fight. Residents in Pendleton and Lapel recently voiced such strong opposition to an annexation attempt by the city of Anderson that the Anderson City Council voted not to proceed with it. Officials in the two towns are even pursuing measures to thwart any future annexation attempts.

The race against the legislation isn’t the only thing propelling this idea forward. Officials are aware that nearby McCordsville could eventually desire the land in the Western Boundary Annexation as well.

“Another thing I think we need to be cognizant of is if we don’t do something, the community immediately west of us certainly will,” Stafford said.

“McCordsville has significantly higher gross assessed valuation, so they won’t be as limited by this law,” Intermill said. “So to the extent they’d want to come our way, they’d likely be able to do that. And if the town of Fortville is handcuffed by that and can only grow so much that way, they’re going to beat us to the finish line.”

Town officials said they believe the Western Boundary Annexation area will one day be part of either McCordsville or Fortville.

“One thing that I’ve heard that I really think is true is if you are

an owner of farm ground that is somewhere within two to three miles of an existing community, that’s not farm ground. That’s future town ground. It just is. As development happens, that farm ground is going to be part of the town,” Intermill said.

The boundaries of the annexation were chosen primarily because of Fortville’s sewer district.

Town manager Joe Renner said that other items considered were going a parcel deeper instead of cutting off boundaries at roadways, and only including full parcels. That means everyone who lives on the roads in the annexation area will be included in the town’s utility district.

According to the fiscal plan, the majority of property owners in the annexation area will not pay any additional property taxes, because the township tax rate already exceeds the 2 percent cap for non-homestead residential and agricultural land. For business property and agricultural equipment, there will be some increase on property taxes that are subject to the 3 per-cent tax cap.

The project is being led by consulting and accounting firm O.W. Krohn and engineers from Triad.

The public hearing on the pro-posed annexation is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 29, at the Fortville Municipal Building. The annexation ordinance can be adopted 30 days after the public hearing.

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