ELKHART — The Elkhart City Council is expected to cast a final vote Monday, June 2, on four annexation areas, including at least two that have inspired some strong opposition from property owners.
The four areas represent the second phase and are among 16 the city is seeking to annex.
The four areas are:
■ No. 5: C.R. 6 and S.R. 19
■ No. 6: C.R. 6 and C.R. 11
■ No. 7: Mishawaka Road and S.R. 19
■ No 8: East of C.R. 1 and Old U.S. 20 West
On April 21, the council conducted a public hearing and heard a lot of opposition from property owners and residents in areas 7 and 8.
Area 7 is a heavily industrial plot along S.R. 19 on the south side of the city and includes small pockets of residential areas. Others were from Area 8, a small tract west of the city.
Concerns were voiced over the potential for increased property taxes, along with the loss of property rights that are more controlled in the city.
Afterward, city officials bristled at some of the suggestions – namely that taxes will increase significantly.
The administration was especially upset with some information put forth in a letter distributed to property owners in Area 7 and echoed by an attorney during the meeting.
The attorney was representing businesses, including M-3 & Associates, a metal fabricating company owned by Randy Wilson and located in Area 7.
A second letter was issued to property owners recently on letterhead from Wilson Properties. It retracts some of the claims made in the first letter and apologizes for the factual errors.
Wilson said some of the facts would not have been off-base if the city had provided more information. Wilson has sought details through a public records request but much was denied.
At the same time, Wilson’s letter reiterates concerns over annexation and lays the groundwork for a legal appeal in case the council votes to approve annexation of Area 7.
Monday’s vote could be important, because Area 7 is by far the largest of the 16 and includes 138 commercial and industrial customers. It brings with it an estimated $66.8 million in assessed value. That area is also needed before the city can annex another area further to the south, which is part of a plan proposed for next year.
Wilson estimates he’ll see a $4,000 hike in combined property tax and personal property tax for his business if his land is annexed.
“I’m just not seeing how we can justify spending $4,000 a year to be in the city, and we’re not going to get anything we’re not already getting,” Wilson said.
While the economic recession has officially ended, Wilson said he and other businesses are still trying to recover.
“Annexation, to us, is just another burden. We don’t see any benefit. We don’t see how we’re gaining anything from a business standpoint,” Wilson said.
City officials point out that tax increases will be limited by state tax caps. For homeowners, the maximum increase is 1 percent, while rental properties are 2 percent and commercial and industrial properties are no more than 3 percent.
In a letter to council members on April 25, Mayor Dick Moore points out, “Very few, if any, of the residential properties will see a tax increase that is more than the benefit of not paying for trash removal.”
Wilson points out that Moore attempted to establish a trash fee in 2012, but declined to speculate whether he thinks that proposal might resurface in the future.
Moore also notes the city was urged by state lawmakers to begin an aggressive annexation plan to make up for lost revenue resulting from changes in the city’s compact fee policy that covers sewer customers outside of the city.
The council also supported the notion of annexation, he said.
Elkhart has a large number of sewer customers outside the city, and the new resulting property tax revenues from annexation will help replace lost money that will come with the end of the compact fee policy.
Aside from the possibility of increased taxes, some residents have said they don’t like the idea that their properties would fall under the scrutiny of code enforcement officers who look for problems such as excessively tall grass and even cars parked in yards.
Councilman David Osborne, a Democrat, said he believes the tax impact at the meeting was overstated and that for residents, the impact would likely be minimal. But he admits, he has not dug into the numbers to know that for fact.
Osborne also said he’s been given assurances by city officials that code officers will take a slow approach over possible code violations that could extend over years.
“It’s not like we annex them and the next day we start red-tagging them and giving them violation notices,” Osborne said.
At the April meeting, several council members said they shared some of the concerns voiced by homeowners, and one suggested that maybe a “carve out” should be considered in which some residential areas would be removed from annexation plans.
Osborne said he doubts that idea will come together.
Osborne said he’s been told by city officials that the current plan helped limit the number of residential areas included in current annexation plans as much as possible.
Osborne said he was told some residential areas were included to minimize the number of “saw-toothed” boundary lines that already exist.
Moore said the city’s plans on additional annexations beyond the current collection of proposals would include help smooth out some of the rough existing city boundaries and holes further.