Local News

Pushback on Mayor's Annexation Bid

(La Porte, IN) - La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody received pushback today after declaring the city has enough signatures to move forward with the process of annexing the 39 North Conservancy District.  This morning, the district board seemingly told the mayor "not so fast" if victory is what he’s trying to declare.  


Dermody made the announcement about having the necessary signatures the day after a city imposed May 31st deadline expired for property owners in the district to sign a petition in favor of annexation.


“We are excited to partner with the conservancy board and its residents to improve the infrastructure in this area and position the 39 North community for future growth,” he said.


In response, during their regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, the board voted not to further discuss permission to annex unless they're provided a fiscal plan on how the city will deliver services to district residents in the three years following annexation.


“The fiscal plan is required under statute so that both this board and the city council knows what’s the cost of taxpayers,” he said.


The city has offered $2 million to purchase the water and sewer lines the district paid $5.2 million to have installed over 20-years ago in exchange for the board approving a consent agreement for the city to annex.


The infrastructure worked to bring more industrial and residential growth to the district whose boundaries extend along Indiana 39 from the city limits to the Indiana Toll Road.


However, the district can no longer grow unless the water lines are replaced with larger ones to meet demand from more customers.  The city has presented a plan to finance what would be an over $10 million cost for adding water capacity to the system.  Currently, the district lacks the funding to pay for such improvements.


To return to the bargaining table, the board also wants to know if proceeds from a sale of the infrastructure can be given to district property owners in the form of credits on their water and sewer bills as compensation for their investment.


District Attorney Shaw Friedman said there is some reason to believe the funds might have to go to county government judging from a previous case law decision related to annexation.


“This board and the city council needs to know where’s that money go. Can it go out and be paid out as discounts to the freeholders of this district as I think folks would like to see or can it not,” he said.


Friedman also said he’s not been presented with any of the signatures Dermody claims to have obtained.  The signatures on a petition must be filed in court by October 1st.  Once filed, Friedman said they can be challenged to make sure they meet the requirements during a verification process, he said.


Under state law, municipalities have to acquire support from either a majority of property owners or property owners representing 60-percent of the assessed valuation to annex targeted areas. 


The effort in La Porte has turned bitter recently with people opposed to annexation criticizing Dermody for taking a heavy handed approach.  He’s been called a “bully” and portrayed as one in drawings posted on social media.  Dermody said it’s unfortunate some people took things personally since his push for annexation began three years ago.  He said the effort was strictly about doing what’s right for both sides.


Dermody said district residents would have better services without an increase in  property taxes while the city would expand to an area ripe for more growth once upgrades are made to the water system.


“What’s best for these residents and business owners has always been at the heart of this discussion and we are happy to have their support to move forward,” he said.


Friedman said litigation is an option for the district if Dermody were to move forward in the annexation process without a consent agreement.

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