TERRE HAUTE —
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb scored a victory earlier this month in his efforts to annex adjoining parts of Sullivan County into the city limits.
Special Judge Joseph Trout ruled Aug. 9 in Sullivan Superior Court that property owners and residents living in an area south of the city had failed, but not by much, to obtain the required number of signatures to fight annexation in court.
The ruling means 51 acres on the south side of Sullivan are now a part of the city, according to a news release from Lamb, who has been touting annexation since taking office last year.
The south annexation brings approximately a half dozen homes into the city limits and at least three existing businesses, Lamb told the Tribune-Star last week. This is the first successful annexation for Sullivan since 1956, he said.
Businesses and residents in the south area were already receiving city police and fire protection as well as “city water, provided by Indiana-American Water Co.,” Lamb said. “We’re not asking them to pay any more in taxes than any other city residents,” he said.
The annexation of the 51 south acres still leaves a much larger area of Sullivan County in the grip of a pending legal fight. This larger area, to the immediate north and west of Sullivan, includes dozens of homes and several businesses, many of which are fighting the proposed annexation in court.
A hearing for the northwest annexation is set for Sept. 12 in Sullivan Superior Court.
In a three-page, written ruling, Trout stated he dismissed the challenge to the south annexation because opponents failed to get signatures from at least 65 percent of parcel owners or from owners of more than 75 percent of the area’s assessed value.
That means the owners of 12 parcels would have had to sign the anti-annexation petition or owners of property with a combined assessed value of at least $481,200, Trout wrote.
As it was, owners of 10 parcels with a combined assessed value of $459,400 signed the petition, falling short by just two signatures or $21,800.
Trout also dismissed an effort by the southside opponents to join forces with those in the northwest. That’s not allowed under Indiana law, the judge ruled, because annexed areas must be adjoining to be considered together. The south area is geographically disconnected from the northwest region.
“Those who are opposed to annexation cannot bolster their numbers by combining those numbers with the more populated north/west annexation area,” Trout wrote.
Sullivan mayors have been considering annexation for more than 50 years, Lamb stated in a news release issued last week. “We are simply executing a plan that is literally decades in the making. The South Annexation is simply one piece of that plan, and we are pleased to welcome this area to Sullivan.”
While Lamb welcomed the victory, he acknowledged in the phone interview with the Tribune-Star that the bigger battle lies ahead. The northwest region consists of more than 1,000 acres and roughly 300 residents. If successful, annexation of that area would bring an additional $286,000 in new tax revenue into the city’s treasury each year. The average household in the area would see an increase in its annual property taxes of about $380, Lamb told the newspaper in June. He added that homeowners would see a drop in their sewer fees and trash hauling fees, if the annexation withstands the court challenge.
The Sullivan City Council adopted two annexation ordinances, one concerning the south properties and the other the northwest parcels, in late 2012.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or email@example.com