By Tom Britt, CG native living in Geist
After attending the town hall meeting hosted by the Citizens for Center Grove in their effort to move the area towards incorporation, I felt compelled to share a history lesson from those of us up in the Geist Reservoir area.
When I moved to Geist Reservoir in 1998, there was a large area of homes in Hamilton County on the north end of the lake that was unincorporated just like White River Township. Geist was, and still is, a residential community much like Center Grove. Back then, Fishers had no desire to annex anyone in the Geist area; it wasn’t even on their 10-year plan.
In the early 2000’s, the Fishers Town Council changed, and with that came a new vision for the Town. They saw the opportunities that Exit 10 at I-69, the 116th Street corridor, and State Road 37 were presenting and decided to being an annexation plan to incorporate most of the unincorporated properties to their east, including Geist Reservoir.
So when the Town of Fishers had a press conference in November 2005 to announce their “Geist Unification Plan,” the education and subsequent land battle began.
Geist residents were looking at a 22% tax increase by becoming Fishers residents. Services would be extended out to the area such as police and roads, fire protection which was already under contract by the township would also be extended.
In an attempt to hold off the forced annexation, a group of residents at Geist called the Geist United Opposition, the equivalent of the Citizens for Center Grove, started pursuing the option of forming our own “Towns of Geist.” After going through the same steps that the Citizens for Center Grove have gone through, we found that our tax rate if we became our own town would be less than if we were annexed by the Town of Fishers (about 17% more versus 22%). In the end, we filed our petitions to the county commissioners four days after the Town had their first reading of the ordinance which gave them “first in time” status and trumped our incorporation efforts in the State Supreme Court.
So how does this relate to the Center Grove incorporation efforts?
- Status Quo Will Change: If you think that Greenwood or Bargersville will never have an appetite to annex areas of Center Grove, you’re wrong. You are one election away from having a new agenda in any neighboring city that includes annexing properties with high property taxes.
- Can’t Fight City Hall: The way Indiana annexation laws are written, the burden of fighting an annexation falls squarely on the residents’ shoulders. If you think the costs of incorporation, (which is estimated to be around $50,000) is expensive, try fighting a forced annexation. Geist residents spent over $225,000 fighting Fishers’ annexation. How much did Fishers spend? Nearly $2 million.
- No Need to Incorporate: You could argue that staying unincorporated is cheaper, and in the short term, I would agree. However, after sitting through several Indiana legislative assembly meetings and hearings during the Geist annexation battle, I can say the State does not like unincorporated areas. They form pockets of landowners that are relying on neighboring municipalities to provide essential services that they do not directly pay for. Such a dynamic almost bankrupted the city of Fort Wayne in the 1980’s. As a result, Indiana is one of only six states that allows for forced annexations.
- Representation: Just think, someone you did not elect can forcibly annex you into their Town or City and put you under their taxing authority. By forming your own Town of Center Grove, electing your own town council members, and having representation from your own community gives you the ultimate power over the direction and growth of your community.
- Pick and Choose Annexations: Fishers slowly but methodically annexed pockets around Geist Reservoir that had the highest property taxes or had the potential for high property taxes (new housing developments). They have stayed away from areas on skeptics (like portions of Smith Valley) because they do not want to extend septic or sewer services to those areas. Think about the future of the area you live in being carved up, piecemealed, and financially poached for property tax revenue by neighboring municipalities.
I hope you will all get behind the Citizens for Center Grove and support their efforts to lead this dramatic but necessary charge. This isn’t a matter of paying $.20 per $100 of net assessed value more for your property taxes by becoming the Town of Center Grove, this is about not paying over $200,000 fighting a forced annexation by neighboring Bargersville (which is at $.78 per $100) or Greenwood ($.37 per $100). If we at Geist could do it all over again, we would have formed our own town years ago.