COA finds Zionsville has authority to incorporate neighboring township

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Describing itself as having a “hybrid status,” Zionsville successfully argued it had the authority to reorganize with Perry Township and convinced the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s order blocking its efforts to incorporate the township.

The reorganization ignited a feud between Zionsville and Whitestown which gave the Court of Appeals an invitation to consider, for the first time, the interpretation of provisions in the 2006 Government Modernization Act.

Whitestown introduced annexation ordinances for land within Perry Township immediately after the township and Zionsville adopted similar resolutions to consider incorporation in April 2014. About a month later, Zionsville and the township adopted the plans for reorganization which would eliminate Perry Township’s government and incorporate the government functions and offices into those of Zionsville.

Whitestown subsequently challenged the validity of the 2014 reorganization plan and won summary judgment.

On appeal, Zionsville claimed, in part, it was acting within statutory authority under either of two provisions of the Act, in Indiana Code section 36-1.5-4/1(a). Whitestown countered that subsection 36-1.5-4-1(a)(2) does not apply because Zionsville is a town, not a township.

Zionsville argued that it was a town/township hybrid status because of its 2010 reorganization with Eagle and Union townships. When it incorporated with these two townships, Zionsville said it continued to exercise the powers of a town while it gained the powers of a township.

A unanimous Court of Appeals panel agreed in Town of Zionsville, Indiana v. Town of Whitestown, Indiana, and Angel Badillo, 06A01-1410-PL-432. The court reversed the Boone Superior Court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Whitestown and remanded with instructions.

“The Act neither expressly precludes Zionsville, having reorganized with and assumed the duties of a township, from functioning in a hybrid town/township capacity, nor from exercising the powers of a township when initiating a reorganization,” Judge Mark Bailey wrote for the court. “The provisions of Subsections 36-1.5-4-40.5(6) and (7) of the Act indicate that the legislature contemplated that reorganized political subdivisions involving a township and another structure of government would retain broad township powers: if the legislature had intended otherwise, there would have been no need to restrict a reorganized political subdivision from borrowing money for firefighting and other emergency services in the same manner as a township.”

The Court of Appeals declined to consider the effect of Zionsville’s reorganization plan on Whitestown’s effort to annex land for the municipality’s waste water treatment plant because that matter is the subject of another pending appeal.

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