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Council seeks mayor’s guidance on annexation

October 4, 2018

The Fort Wayne City Council is seeking guidance from Mayor Tom Henry’s administration on the voluntary annexation of the La Cabreah neighborhood after the withdrawal of nine petition signatures favoring the change.

Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, raised the question during Tuesday’s council meeting, saying that if council proceeds with the voluntary annexation, it would be moving forward with a legal “fiction.” Ten residents spoke out against the planned annexation at a City Council public hearing last month.

A portion of the La Cabreah neighborhood is within city limits, but most of it lies in the county just north of the city limits and south of Huntertown. There are 268 homes in the neighborhood, 161 of which are in the county, said Deb Parish, president of the La Cabreah Community Association, on Wednesday.

“When the bill was introduced requiring 51 percent of the homeowners to be a voluntary annexation, without question, as a matter of fact, there was not 51 percent of homeowners that supported the introduction of a bill titled, ‘The voluntary annexation of La Cabreah,’” Barranda said.

Several residents who spoke at the Sept. 11 public hearing said they originally signed the petition to request the annexation, but changed their minds after they realized they were given incorrect information.

The residents told council members they had originally been told that response times from emergency services would improve and property taxes would not increase as a result of the annexation. Those homeowners now believe emergency service would not improve and property taxes would increase.

Parish said while it’s true that homes that have not yet reached the 1 percent property tax cap will see their taxes increase, most of the homes in the neighborhood have already hit that ceiling. Parish also said most neighbors don’t want to have to rely on the Huntertown Fire Department for emergency services when Fort Wayne Fire Department Station 16 is only a few minutes away on Coldwater Road.

Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the annexation Oct. 23, but there is some confusion regarding whether the annexation should be labeled voluntary or involuntary given that nine signatures were withdrawn from the petition. Those withdrawals drop the number of petition signatures below the 51 percent of homeowners required to trigger annexation proceedings.

“I don’t think that we can presume, when you’re trying to annex someone else’s property and take something from someone, that there’s a presumption of validity,” Barranda said.

“I think the burden of proof is on the homeowners or the administration or the people bringing forth this substantive bill for them to prove we have the right to take something, either voluntary or involuntary.”

Whether the annexation is considered voluntary or involuntary could change the way some council members vote on the issue.

Changing the designation to involuntary would change the procedure moving forward. Under an involuntary annexation, state law requires six public information hearings, as opposed to three required for a voluntary annexation.

When the petition was filed with the city’s Community Development Division in April, there were signatures from 51 percent of the homeowners in the La Cabreah neighborhood, City Council Attorney Joe Bonahoom said.

“They still had 51 percent of the signatures on or about June 1, when Community Development delivered it to the clerk’s office,” Bonahoom said. “So, the people that pulled their names, I don’t know exactly when they pulled their names.”

Bonahoom said he received a letter notifying him of the change late in the day July 10, the day the annexation resolution was introduced.

Bonahoom said he did not have time to fully examine the letter and stop the introduction from proceeding.

“I can’t, in my opinion, stop introduction every time I get a letter from somebody that says, ‘Hey we’ve got this procedural problem, you need to stop introduction,’” Bonahoom said, noting that he has asked the city administration to review the issue.

Bonahoom said the fact that the resolution wasn’t introduced to council until after the signatures were withdrawn doesn’t affect the process going forward.

“The voluntary annexation process and the timing, at least according to my reading of the statutes, was kicked off when this annexation petition, which had 51 percent of the signatures, was submitted to the clerk,” he said. “My belief ... is that it was filed correctly, that they could proceed at this point either voluntarily or involuntarily, and I don’t think the process is flawed.”

In a statement late Tuesday, city spokesman John Perlich said the annexation proposal “doesn’t involve a preference by the city.”

“The La Cabreah neighbors started and signed the petition as a voluntary annexation, which triggered the statutory process that requires the city to submit a fiscal plan and ordinance to council for its consideration,” Perlich said. “We are simply following state statute.”

dgong@jg.net

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