The Interim Study Committee on Government met through almost four hours of testimony revolving around annexation on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2014. A vast majority of the testimony came from citizens who have been negatively affected by annexations.
Economic Development, services from/to utilities and annexation are inherently related; however, the Indiana General Assembly often discusses these issues in a vacuum. Legislative focus recently within the General Assembly has been on involuntary annexation.
Citizens throughout the State who have been negatively affected by annexation (in their opinion) and the Indiana Farm Bureau are likely going to move to draft legislation with the support of several legislators to abolish involuntary annexation.
Annexation Without Representation
Some of the testimony revolved around their perception that the decision to be annexed into a municipality is made for the affected citizens without their input. Further, they believe that the remonstrance period and procedure is not clear enough for the average citizen to do on their own.
Some seemed willing to compromise, but many voiced the position that a community should reimburse the successful remonstrators for involuntary annexations.
Furthermore, the likelihood of the State, via legislative mandate, developing a State form to ease the ability to remonstrate is likely. The fee shifting legislation that almost passed through the last session is also something that should seriously concern local officials (See, SB 273-2014).
The allegation of action without representation is real and made an impact on the committee members. The citizens that are affected by these involuntary annexations do not have representation within the respective Council that adopts the annexation.
Extension of Services to Outskirt Municipalities
Another consistent theme is the idea of municipalities speculating on the outskirts of their land that is contiguous to the municipality. In other words, it is alleged that cities and towns need to be more discerning in determining whether to extend services.
Additionally, some testified to a concern about the decision making authority of the judge in remonstrance proceedings. Some voiced their ideas of developing a committee on annexations composed of citizens both inside the municipal limits and those within the area to be annexed. Finally, the legislature could possibly do away with judicial review in favor an election of sorts to vote up or down the annexation.
Citizens who oppose involuntary annexations have the ability to frame the message in a very sympathetic tone. Said another way, those citizens are concerned about the rights of property owners.
The consistent theme that resonated throughout the Committee:
- Not enough transparency;
- Unclear process;
- Inadequate fiscal plans;
- Insufficient notice and lack of real citizen input;
- Little-to-no decision making authority within the citizenry that are affected by involuntary annexations;
- General distaste for judicial review of remonstrance;
- Fee shifting for remonstrance; and
- A lack of understanding for analysis on municipal planning.
Legislation is highly likely to occur this upcoming budget session. How much input local officials have in the development of pieces of legislation is up to each individual municipality.
It is clear that communication and education is needed to the members of the General Assembly before they take away a very necessary and important tool for economic development for cities and towns
If individual municipalities wish to voice their thoughts on annexation, the topic will be discussed again at the next meeting of the Interim Committee on Sept. 24, 2014, from 1–4 p.m. in the Statehouse, Room 233. The Committee will be accepting additional testimony and specific recommendations on how to clarify annexations.