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Rural central Indiana landowners fight town's annexation bid

September 15, 2015

The state's highest court is set to hear a legal battle by a group of rural landowners fighting to prevent an adjacent central Indiana town from annexing their land and subjecting them to higher taxes.

Twenty landowners who live on unincorporated land in Boone County just northwest of Indianapolis are trying to stop Whitestown officials' efforts to annex about 621 acres of undeveloped land in the county's Perry Township.

A trial court judge last year blocked Whitestown's annexation plan, but the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in June that Whitestown could move ahead with its effort to annex the land.

The Indiana Supreme Court takes up the case next week.

Perry Township's population is about 1,000 people, many of them retirees such as Paul Laska, who has an inherent distrust of government and doesn't want to be part of a municipality because it comes with higher taxes. He said he left the suburbs a decade ago because he wanted to live in the country.

"We do not want to live in a cookie-cutter community. We prefer the open land," Laska said.

An ordinance adopted by Whitestown in 2013 includes a three-year delay in the annexation's effective date, followed by a 10-year tax abatement.

That means the tax increase that's projected to be 52 to 74 percent — even with existing property tax caps — would not be felt for 13 years by affected landowners, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Sam Baldwin, who has lived in Perry Township for 48 years, said many residents won't be able to keep living in their homes if taxes go up significantly.

"It's just that we would like to be the way we are," he said.

Court records filed by the landowners in the legal dispute state that the annexation — an act that usually adds police, fire or utility services to a territory being annexed — would have no tangible benefits for Perry Township's landowners.

Those landowners also are caught in the middle of another legal dispute between Whitestown and the neighboring Boone County suburb of Zionsville. Both want land in Perry Township for future development and the tax base it would create.

Zionsville wants to reshape its government and hopes to absorb Perry Township, while Whitestown is trying to keep that from happening and is protecting its ability to expand its boundaries.

In the past, annexations turned into court battles if 65 percent of landowners opposed the annexation. But under a new law that took effect in July, an annexation is automatically void if the same percentage of landowners oppose it.

That law doesn't apply to Perry Township landowners because their litigation began long before the law took effect.

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