Water Under the Geist Bridge
As Geist prepares to join the Town of Fishers, some wonder if all is forgiven. After more than four years and a bitter legal battle, Geist will officially become part of the Town of Fishers on Jan. 2. While the major issues that led many Geist residents to oppose annexation have been resolved, some wonder whether Fishers and Geist can put past differences aside and move on as one. Pete Peterson, former president of Geist United Opposition says Fishers still has fences to mend with Geist residents.
“I’m pretty sure some of the residents out here have some hard feelings on that subject,” Peterson said.
Much of the ire of annexation opponents has been directed toward Town Council President Scott Faultless, who is ironically a Geist resident and Peterson’s next-door neighbor. He says time will eventually cure all. He added Geist residents will eventually come to appreciate the higher level of service the town can provide. “We’re looking forward not backward,” Faultless said.
Faultless announced plans to annex over 2,000 residences in unincorporated areas around Geist at a press conference in November 2005. He said annexation would make delivery of town services such as road, water and sewer maintenance, as well as police and fire protection more efficient. In addition, he said many Geist residents benefited directly from town services and amenities without paying for them.
Annexation opponents viewed the action as an unwarranted grab for money and land. Within days of the announcement, Geist United Opposition was formed.
The GUO argued Geist property taxes would rise by as much as 22 percent. The GUO launched a series of legal challenges in the courts, lobbied state lawmakers for changes in the state’s annexation laws and even investigated the idea of incorporating as the towns of East and West Geist.
While the courts sided with Fishers in the annexation debate, all arguments against annexation were rendered moot when the General Assembly backed Gov. Mitch Daniels’ property tax reform bill capping residential property taxes at one percent of assessed value.
Faultless says the town is reaching out to the town’s newest citizens. Welcome letters will be sent to Geist residents explaining town services, governmental structure and the advantages of being part of Fishers. It encourages Geist residents to express their concerns and to take an active role in shaping Fishers’ future by participating in town government. He says being part of Fishers gives Geist something it hasn’t had before, a voice.
“They can participate now. They can run for office,” Faultless said.
Some are planning to do just that. A groundswell of support for adopting a city form of government headed by an elected mayor with city council members elected by districts has taken hold at Geist. The issue will go before voters in a referendum next spring.
Peterson says much of the support for a city government structure is rooted in the lingering animosity toward the Fishers Town Council over the annexation debate. While he declined to name names, Peterson says at least half a dozen “prominent” residents have told him they are thinking of running for office.
For his part, Peterson says he hasn’t made up his mind which form of government he will support. He says town officials need to allow more open discussion on the topic. In addition, he says town officials need to articulate a clearer vision and sense of identity for Fishers.
“I can absolutely tell you that I’m not for more taxes,” Peterson said. On that note, Faultless offers a cautionary word. He says those who seek retribution through wholesale governmental restructuring may find more of what they didn’t want in the first place.
“If you want higher taxes and bigger government, you should support becoming a city,” Faultless said. Despite some lingering resentment, there are some at Geist who say it’s time to let bygones be bygones. Rachel Quade, once an outspoken annexation opponent and GUO officer has since been appointed to the Fishers Advisory Plan Commission and now takes a more conciliatory stance.
“We had our day in court and now you go forward,” Quade said. “I think the key to a smooth transition is to stay involved in the process.”