Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 15, 2012

Annexation hearings draw crowd

More than 100 turn up to speak, listen

By Scott Smith
KOKOMO TRIBUNE

— If the city of Kokomo annexes the areas around the new U.S. 31 interchanges and the Cotswold Hills subdivision, it won’t be without opposition.

That was the message the Kokomo Common Council received Monday, as about 100 county residents, mostly opposed to annexation, came to share their thoughts at the official public hearing.

At issue is whether the city will take in about 6 square miles around the southeast of the city, and on the other side of Kokomo, a 58-lot subdivision of upscale homes.

The 90-minute hearing was a tale of two annexations, with the Cotswold residents representing a desire to work with the city to lessen the impact on taxes.

But the Southeast Annexation residents present Monday were led by two members of the Taylor Schools board, who expressed concerns the annexation will cost the school district funding.

School board members Dennis Marler and Scott Maple both said Howard County Assessor Jamie Shepherd told them the schools might lose significant revenue to the annexation.

The city council members — and city attorney Lawrence McCormack — said no one had shared those estimates with them.

“It appalls me you’re not aware of the damage this will do to the Taylor tax situation,” Maple told the council.

Council President Mike Kennedy, D-At Large, said he wasn’t aware of any complaints of revenue loss from the Northwestern or Western schools in the wake of two city annexations this past January.

Other residents targeted by the proposed Southeast Annexation said they were concerned about losing their country lifestyle, including shooting, hunting, building bonfires and raising livestock.

Jason Stephenson, the Indianapolis attorney hired by the city to respond to questions, said existing non-conforming uses will be grandfathered in, “absent any significant expansion” of that use.

Bill Nolan, owner of Nolan Excavating, said the city couldn’t offer him anything he needs, and his current property taxes are about 50 percent below the constitutionally mandated property tax cap.

He said his taxes might double if he’s annexed.

But in Cotswold Hills, Amy and Aaron True were almost begging to be annexed, saying their failing septic system makes it dangerous for their kids to play in the yard.

Local septic installer Dick Blazer said almost half the septics in Cotswold Hills are undersized. He said he’s seen aerial photography showing failing septics in at least five lots.

The city is proposing to spend $1 million in wastewater utility funds to extend a sewer interceptor to the subdivision, but residents choosing to hook on will have to pay up to $6,000 plus a $1,250 tap fee and other charges.

But the True family’s soil isn’t conducive to a septic, so they can’t fix or build another septic. They’ll have to hook up to a sewer or keep pumping out their septic.

Cotswold resident Justin Kline suggested a compromise of sorts, asking the city council to consider granting homeowners a property tax abatement to help phase in the impact of higher property taxes.

Kline said the city of Martinsville recently gave newly annexed residents a three-year abatement, during which time taxes were phased in gradually.

Stephenson confirmed such abatements are allowed, but said the city council would have to add the abatement to the ordinance before passing it.

Kennedy, who got into a minor verbal sparring match with one remonstrator and later offered an apology, said he anticipates a final vote on the annexation ordinances on either Nov. 19 or Nov. 26. The council has regularly scheduled meetings both nights.

“Right now I’m leaning toward the 26th,” he said.

If the annexations are both finalized this year, residents would become part of the city and start paying property taxes in 2014.

Any legal remonstrance could push those dates back.

If the owners of 75 percent of the assessed valuation in a targeted area oppose an involuntary annexation, they can kill it. The same holds true if the owners of 65 percent of the parcels in a targeted area oppose it.

Scott Smith can be reached at (765) 454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com