ELKHART — What went wrong with area 10?
The Elkhart City Council members reviewed 13 areas targeted for annexation in recent months, but on Monday, July 21, they rejected one of the last few to be considered this year.
Monday’s defeat came shortly after a revised version of Area 10 was introduced that carved out nearly 75 percent of residential property inside the tract that runs along part of Toledo Road just west of the U.S. 20 interchange east of the city.
Councilman Dave Osborne, a Democrat, said he sought to scale it down because it had too many homes that were not necessary.
But area 10 was different in other ways.
Residents contended it is more rural than other areas outside of the city that have been targeted.
While others were dominated by businesses, area 10 only has a handful of businesses, which included a 576-unit apartment complex known as Arbor Lakes.
Annexation opponents claimed to have nearly 100 percent support of the homeowners, some of whom were adamant about remaining outside of the city, complained about the potential loss of freedoms and lobbied the council via a phone campaign over the weekend.
On a philosophical side, some made comparisons to the Nazi Germany and even Russian President Vladimir Putin’s encroachment into Crimea.
Logistically, at least two people pointed out how quickly township and county emergency responders arrived at the scene of a traffic accident on Toledo Road on Sunday and argued that city responders would not be as quick.
Ultimately, though, the last-minute changes inadvertently fueled some of the ongoing complaints about the lack of transparency and information by the city.
Monday’s meeting was paused for a few moments so some of the standing-room only crowd could gather around and see if they were still within the revised area.
The last-minute changes reflected an on-going lack of information, according to Republican councilman David Henke.
“I think we failed to communicate an expectation of annexation, something routine with annexations,” Henke said Monday night. “I don’t support it at all. It’s not because of the number of people who showed up. It’s because of the lack of information provided.”
Even with the changes, Republican councilman Brian Dickerson said the plan would have “trampled” on the rights of property owners who didn’t want to be part of the city.
Mary Olson, a Republican council member, said she didn’t like the idea that the city was annexing a handful of homeowners just for the purpose of reaching out and annexing several businesses.
Osborne acknowledged the original plan for area 10 generated “quite a backlash.”
But in a last minute plea to colleagues to approve the revised plan, Osborne added, “We are a city with declining revenues and we need the revenues and we need the apartment complex.”
Democrat Ron Troyer, council’s president, said the revised plan should have come together two months ago.
Troyer blamed the downfall of area 10 on a lack of communication.
Numerous people on Monday said they had questions posed to city offices that went unanswered.
“They just weren’t consistently honest with the people,” Troyer said.
Mayor Dick Moore on Tuesday defended his staff against complaints about a lack of information.
Such accusations are “a normal response when you are trying to defeat a measure,” Moore said, adding that he’s heard that kind of complaint often in his 37 years in city government.
City officials, Moore said, “did a great job with this annexation” and went beyond what was legally required.
When staff members tried to give out correct information they were often called “liars,” Moore said.
“People had simply made their minds up and did not care about the truth or correct information,” he said.
Monday’s meeting appears to be the last council action this year concerning annexation, having approved 12 of 13 proposals.
The final deadline to initiate a court challenge of the proposed annexations will pass in October and if legal moves don’t materialize, the dozen areas will become part of the city on Jan. 1, 2015.
The loss of area 10 means the city won’t be able to count on an estimated $276,000 in annual tax revenues, Moore said.
Moore said Tuesday’s action involving area 10 “Is not a big blow to the current overall annexation plans, but it does complicate the thought of future annexation plans.”
He also said failure to annex area 10 will hurt economic development in the area and make it harder to extend sewer and water.