News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 14, 2013

Sullivan mayor continues push for annexation

Taxes, services at issue as hearings end

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A drive up Sullivan’s main north-south road, Section Street, reveals dozens and dozens of stop signs.

But they aren’t asking traffic to stop – just the city’s efforts to grow geographically to the north and west.

Sullivan is in the grip of a fight over annexation, pitting the city and some of its residents against residents of the county.

Sullivan has not expanded through annexation since the 1950s, argues Mayor Clint Lamb, a first-term mayor who has wasted no time stirring the pot in his rural community. It’s only fair for folks living on the west and north edges of Sullivan to pay the same tax rates as those living just across the city/county line, he said.

On Friday, Special Judge Joseph Trout of Clay County presided over the last of a two-day hearing brought about by residents and business owners opposed to annexation. Those opposed sat on one side of the Sullivan Superior Court room while city officials and those in favor sat on the other.

Mayor Lamb, speaking shortly after the attorneys rested their cases at about 2:15 p.m., said he remains committed to annexation.

“All we’re asking is that if you receive city police and city fire service, just pay the same as everyone else,” Lamb said. If nothing else, the annexation hearing has “shed a light on things that haven’t been right for a long time,” he said.

But those opposing annexation reject Lamb’s arguments about police and fire service and also view annexation as something that will cost jobs and harm people living on fixed incomes. Annexation will raise tax rates for households on average by about $380, Lamb has said. Businesses in the area will also pay higher property taxes, costing jobs, opponents argue.

Higher property tax bills will hit people hard who are living on fixed incomes, said Mike Dugan, a Sullivan County resident whose home would become part of the city if annexation is successful. Dugan was driving through Greenbriar subdivision west of Sullivan after the hearing, collecting “Stop Annexation – Save Jobs” signs and placing them in his pickup truck.

Immediately after the hearing, both sides said they felt their attorneys made strong arguments.

“I think we made a lot of good, valid points against annexation,” said a woman who did not want to give her name but who attended the hearing with a friend. “Our [side] was understandable, too,” she said. Dugan agreed that the anti-annexation side made strong points.

Lamb, on the other hand, said he felt the city’s attorney also scored high marks.

“I think we hit the message home,” the mayor said.

Annexation will provide the city with an additional $286,000 in revenue annually, Lamb has stated, noting that, in his mind, annexation is the key to Sullivan’s future growth.

“I feel confident [the annexation ruling] is going to go our way,” Lamb said. “If it doesn’t, where’s the city going to go? Drive around. The status quo doesn’t work.”

Judge Trout asked both sides to present their suggested findings-of-fact to him by Nov. 1, along with post-trial briefs. The judge also asked both sides to state whether annexation is in the best interest of property owners and to answer a series of other questions. He is expected to hand down a ruling in November.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.