The Washington Times-Herald

October 10, 2012

Tempers flare at annexation hearing

By Andrea McCann
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — A public hearing concerning proposed annexation of eastside properties brought several residents to Monday’s Washington City Council meeting.

There were no comments at a public hearing on the city’s 2013 budget, but several people spoke at the annexation hearing. Eva Martin submitted a petition signed by a number of people residing in the White Ridge neighborhood who are opposed to the annexation. Seven residents on Piankeshaw Trail who are opposed told council members they moved to the country for a reason.

“I bought my property because it’s in the county,” said Steve Armes, explaining his gravel road has little traffic. “If improvements are made, it will bring more traffic.”

Nathan Wagler said he bought his farm in that area in 1988 and built a house off the road, away from the public eye. If annexation is approved, he said, his house will be 20 feet off the annexation line.

“Does the line need to go that far southeast?” he asked.

Martin, Larry Snyder and Dick Ostby said they looked into the possibility of annexation before purchasing their properties, because they wanted to be outside the city. They said former mayors Tom Baumert and Larry Haag told them it would never be financially feasible to annex the area. Some speakers said they believe the council members don’t understand the cost that would be involved in upgrading the infrastructure in the area.

“I’m against it,” Ostby said. “I think it’s not in the city’s best interest financially.”

Ron Arnold was in agreement. The men said the sewer, water and roads are not up to spec and will need to be improved. But the recurring theme was that residents of the proposed annexation area want to remain in the county, not the city.

“If I wanted to live in the city, I would’ve stayed in the city,” Arnold said. “I moved out in the county because I didn’t want to stay in the city.”

Although the name is the same, the Ron Arnold at Monday’s council meeting is not the Daviess County Economic Development Executive Director.

Snyder added that he thinks the increased property taxes that would accompany annexation would be too much for seniors.

“I want to do my part making the city grow,” Ray Lengacher said, “but people want property taxes to stay low.”

The hearing was just that: a forum for the council to hear public concerns. It was not a designed as an information exchange. However, later there was discussion during a presentation by Chris Janak of Bose McKinney & Evans and Deen Rogers of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, who talked about various aspects of the annexation.

Janak explained the public hearing and notice to affected property owners was the second phase of the annexation process. The third phase includes final consideration and a 30- to 60-day remonstrance period, he said. When asked about remonstrance, he said: “In order to have a remonstrance, you have to have certain requirements. A petition must be signed by a certain number of people and filed.”

Rogers talked about the fiscal perspective, saying the fiscal plan has been approved.

“I do believe this is financially feasible for the city,” he said in response to the doubters in the crowd.

One agitated patron accused the council of wanting to annex as a fund raiser for the city through property taxes and fees.

“With today’s tax caps, most people are maxed out anyway, so an increase will be minimal,” Rogers said, explaining taxes are capped at a percentage of the property owner’s gross assessed value, with that percentage based on how the land is zoned.

He said county residents pay more for electric and fire protection services. Some insurance companies will lower premiums when policy holders are in a lower fire class rating area. Rogers said the county has a fire class rating of seven. while the city’s is five.

“One of the primary reasons (for annexation) is the city wants to provide services out there and take it in to provide reasonable and responsible growth with I-69 coming in,” he continued.

Martin said she believes zoning already addresses business growth, so annexation shouldn’t be necessary. She questioned why the city wouldn’t annex the south end of the city where there are several businesses.

“The south end is already a hodgepodge,” Mayor Joe Wellman said, explaining it’s an example of the type of uncontrolled growth the city doesn’t want along the I-69 corridor. “Zoning can control some things, but not all things.”

He said water and sewage lines on the south side are a hodgepodge of sizes, and no one maintains the streets. He said he believes annexation is the best way to address long-term growth.

One patron asked about plans for infrastructure. He was concerned that widening the roads in the proposed annexation area would take away people’s front yards.

“The idea is not to widen or make a thoroughfare that would change the integrity of the neighborhood,” said David Dahl of Midwestern Engineers. “The road would be paved but not widened.”

City engineer Ed Barnett added that roads would have to be developed enough for trash trucks and other utility vehicles to get through, and there would have to be a cul-de-sac for vehicles to turn around.

One patron asked what the city is bound to do for annexed residents, why the current administration thinks the annexation is feasible if previous administrations did not, and if Piankeshaw Trail could be omitted from the annexation since it’s a cul-de-sac street with only seven residences. Wellman told him the city would provide services the rest of the city receives, such as fire hydrants. Councilman Mike Singleton, whose district the annexed area would fall into if annexation is approved, added paved roads, street lights, full-time fire protection, lower utility bills, trash pickup and snow removal.

“If we’re going to annex, we have to do the whole area,” Wellman said.

He explained that omitting certain streets could become a public safety issue if police and firefighters couldn’t figure out in whose jurisdiction a situation occurred. In addition, it would create the same hodgepodge of utility service as on the city’s south side.

The next step will be taken at the Nov. 13 city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers. In the meantime, residents can email the mayor or council members with questions.