The state's second-highest appellate court decided that the city adequately proved it could afford to annex part of a nearby community into its municipal borders, and that a Hamilton County judge erred in auditing a financial plan and ruling in favor of the remonstrators.
The unanimous decision in City of Carmel v. Certain Home Place Annexation Territory Landowners, No. 29A04-0510-CV-578, comes not even a month after a three-judge appellate panel heard arguments in the case Sept. 18.
Arguments had been halted for almost a year as the Indiana Supreme Court considered a similar annexation case involving the same city and trial judge, and the court dug into Home Place again after the justices decided the other case this summer.
This suit involves the attempted annexation of historic Home Place, a 1.6-square mile area centered at 106th Street and College Avenue that involves more than 2,200 property owners. Nearly three-quarters of the property owners remonstrated against the annexation because of higher taxes. In a 2005 decision, Hamilton Superior Judge William Hughes ruled that despite Carmel's submission of a fiscal plan outlining how it would pay for the annexation, the city did not prove it could afford to provide services to the area.
During arguments, attorneys debated how much authority a trial judge has to determine credibility of what's in a fiscal plan, especially when opposing expert witnesses point to conflicting information.
Judge Hughes determined the fiscal plan's statement that "other available revenues" would be used to pay for the annexation was not sufficient
In writing for the majority, Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote, "Carmel met its burden of proving the statutory prerequisite that the fiscal plan must show 'the method or methods of financing the planned services.' The trial court's judgment to the contrary is akin to a judicial audit and constitutes clear error."
The court relied on past rulings from the Indiana Supreme Court, including a June decision involving a Carmel annexation of another area in Southwest Clay Township. Justices reversed the trial ruling - also of Judge Hughes - and allowed the annexation to proceed, and distinguished between signing a remonstrance and opposing an annexation.
"At the end of the day, it is apparent Carmel has made credible and enforceable commitments to provide equivalent services to Home Place," Judge Vaidik wrote in today's opinion.