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Elkhart annexation veers toward election year

Council members who cast recent “no” votes say politics is not a part of the decision — another hearing set for Monday.

Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.

ELKHART — Earlier this month, when city council faced final votes on whether to annex four areas into the city of Elkhart, the nine members heard another earful from opponents.

And while those property owners made clear their reasons for opposing the idea of becoming part of the city, some threatened to actively oppose re-election of council members who support annexation.

Despite the threats, council OK’d all four areas during the June 2 meeting. Only two council members cast opposing votes.

Political threats are often part of the political landscape, but could take on more meaning when municipal elections arrive in 2015.

If Mayor Dick Moore’s plans move along as scheduled, 13 of the 16 areas would become part of the city on Jan. 1 and new residents will be able to vote in city elections.

The remaining three will be debated after the first of the year and even more proposals loom in the future.

“I don’t think anybody is fantasizing (or) thinking this would be an easy, smooth thing,” said Democrat councilman Dave Osborne, the first district representative whose district would be affected geographically more than any other.

“It’s pretty much expected that there’s going to be some discourse,” he said.

Public hearings on Monday
Elkhart City Council will conduct a public hearing on areas that make up Phase 3 and 4A. Areas that make up phases three and four were altered after the initial proposal. The public hearing is an opportunity for public comment. A final vote on the areas will be on July 21. Those include:
■ Area 12, Beck Drive, C.R. 17
■ Area 14, S.R. 19, C.R. 4
■ Area 15, C.R. 6 and C.R. 7
■ Area 9, Toledo Road C.R. 13
■ Area 10, Toledo Road C.R. 17 (Phase 4A)

Osborne said he’s not bothered by threats of electoral opposition in the event he chooses to run for re-election. He suggested some of the no votes might have been affected by politics, though.

Brian Dickerson, who opposed three of four in the June 2 votes, said political threats were not a factor.

The first-term Republican previously supported the first four areas brought before council.

The difference?

Unlike the first group of proposals, Dickerson said he received numerous calls opposing some of the areas that were part of the June 2 votes.

Dickerson said he’s concerned with the lack of explanation on how the city intends to expand its borders while at the same time, wonders “how they’re going to provide services to those areas without harming our ability to serve our citizens. That is my greatest concern.”

Dickerson also said he’s bothered by an aggressive approach that includes businesses and homeowners who do not receive city sewer services and don’t want to become part of the city.

He said annexation should focus on areas that have sewer customers who have already agreed not to fight annexation.

The Moore administration has said its plans have focused on customers who already receive sewer service, but also includes other areas to avoid creating more pockets of unincorporated areas.

Councilman Brian Thomas, who represents District 2, voted against annexing two areas. He voiced concern about the lack of details provided by the city and the impact on city services. He said he cast the votes knowing it would pass.

“I’m not a big fan of forced annexation,” Thomas said. “If they don’t want to be in the city, I guess why do we want them?”

While Moore often points out that council agreed annexation was the way to go to resolve the compact sewer policy, Thomas said he looks at it as “a” way to go.

He also brushed aside suggestions that his vote was based on politics.

“If you took every contentious issue and went with the easy way out, you wouldn’t vote yes or no,” Thomas said.

Moore, who has announced plans to run for a third term as mayor, declined to reply to questions about the political ramifications of trying to look at more proposals during an election year.

While he and his administration have discussed plans for additional annexation proposals beyond what is already on the table, Moore said future plans will be determined after the current proposals are decided. Those decisions will be based on the cost of services versus the benefits, he said.

“Any further talk about future annexation is premature. After the current ones are completed and (become) a part of the city, we will sit down and begin discussions,” Moore said in an email to The Truth.

Osborne and Thomas said they both suspect the pace of annexations will slow next year.

Determining how much electoral influence the new areas could bring remains speculation. Exactly how many new registered voters could be added to the city won’t be determined until probably early next year.

Impact on districts

If the current 16 proposed areas are approved, four of the six council districts would grow in size.

City council districts can be revised after each U.S. census. The next one will be in 2020. City officials could redistrict the following year. Any changes would take effect in 2022, according to Christopher Anderson, chief deputy clerk who works closely with the county election board.

In the meantime, proposed areas would be added to adjacent districts if and when they become part of the city.

Two proposed areas touch more than one district.

Area 14, the smallest of the 16 and located on the far north side, touches the first and second districts and will be divided along S.R. 19, Moore said.

Area 4 straddles the first and third districts and officials decided to place it in District Three, Moore said.

Osborne, a Democrat, will see the most dramatic changes if all of the proposals are approved. He has five annexation areas that exclusively touch the First District.

Thomas, a Republican who represents District Two, has three annexation areas that exclusively touch his district. Another that would be part of the district will be considered in 2015.

Republican David Henke’s Third District will gain three areas to his district and another will be considered in 2015.

Tonda Hines, a Democrat, represents the Sixth District, which includes Area 7, a mix of industrial, commercial and residential. 

A remonstrance effort is under way in Area 7 and a petition drive could lead to a court challenge.

Area 8, which is south of 7, will be considered for annexation in 2015 and would also be part of Hines’ district.

Hines said her votes have been based on what is best for the city and she looks beyond whether she might lose votes over the issue if she runs again.

“My decision-making is not based on a vote,” Hines said. “My intent is to advocate for all and I don’t even look at it in that sense.“

Districts 4 and 5, whose representatives are Ron Troyer and Brent Curry, respectively, are unaffected by current annexation plans.

Three at-large council members represent the entire city. Those include Dickerson, Mary Olson and Rod Roberson.


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