Meeting to address Trafalgar annexation plans, answer questions

After a group of about 60 residents questioned and criticized a proposal to grow the town of Trafalgar, officials are pushing back their plans and taking time to address their concerns.

Last week, residents raised concerns about the plan to annex more than 1,300 acres, mainly along State Road 135, into the town. They questioned how town’s rules on animals and plants would apply to what had been rural properties, worried about how they would afford the tax increase and made clear they did not want to be a part of the town.

That stuck with town officials. After last week’s public hearing, Trafalgar Town Council member Betty Davis could not sleep.

“Wednesday night was a revelation to me. It really, really was. I felt like a tyrannical person, I really did. And I still feel that way. This is America, and in America, people get to vote when something affects them or creates a problem for them. And we had a room full of people who had no voice,” Davis said.

To address those concerns and questions, the town council will host a question-and-answer session with those affected by the annexation before their final vote June 18. They also will put together a letter to mail to residents, addressing the main concerns that residents repeatedly brought up.

And they also have made some added changes to the plan, which including grandfathering in the annexed properties so that they don’t have to follow town ordinances, like open fire burning and keeping vegetation and livestock on their property.

They also are considering changing the zoning for those annexed in so that they match closest to what the land is used for now. If a property is used as a farm, for example, it will be zoned as agriculture land. If it is mostly used for residential or commercial use, it will be zoned for residential or commercial use, annexation lawyer Hillary Close said. Previously, under the proposed changes the properties would mostly switch from residential or agricultural to commercial use.

Town officials hope answering questions and addressing the concerns will calm the residents who are part of the proposed annexation area.

Three different lawyers who were representing Johnson County residents had threatened to file for a remonstrance, fighting against the annexation. If the remonstrances are successful, the town could have to pay $112,500 in legal fees. Davis is sure that a remonstrance will be filed or that the town will be sued.

“We are creating a group of people who will hate us forever and will fight us at a drop of a hat. And I now see that they are getting nothing. They really are. They are getting nothing except for a raise in their taxes,” she said.

But in order for the town to grow and thrive in the future, the annexation is necessary, others said. If the town does not annex new land, there would not be room left for a bigger company to build, town council president Jeff Eisenmenger said.

“Every city and town around us have all annexed but us, so we need to be proactive and we can’t think about just today,” Eisenmenger said. “We’ve got to think 10, 15 years from now.”

Children are raised in town, graduate from Indian Creek High School and never come back, Trafalgar resident Donna Moore said. The town needs to keep younger people in the area in order to thrive in the future.

“This community does need to grow,” Moore said. “Bargersville has spread so much in the past 20 years of me driving up and down 135. Trafalgar has sat here.”

Trafalgar resident Mark Bowman also thinks it is time for residents included in the annexation area to pay for services that they receive for free, like police protection.

As of now, the Trafalgar Police Department will respond to homes outside of town limits, even though the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is really responsible for those homes. But those Johnson County property owners don’t pay for Trafalgar police services, Bowman said. The residents that live outside of the town limits should be paying for services they use, since the town residents have to, he said.

“Is that fair to the people that you represent currently? You have to ask yourself that,” Bowman said. “How do you explain that to the people in the town that others are receiving the same benefits that these people are paying for, and they’re not paying a dime?”

What's next?

The Trafalgar town council wants to answer questions that Johnson County residents had about the proposed annexation areas north, east and west of the town limits. Here’s what is happening now:

Public meeting: Public meeting to answer questions and address concerns that residents shared during the public hearing May 13

When: 7 p.m., June 9

Where: Trafalgar Banquet Center, 109½ S. Pleasant St., Trafalgar

Letters: Residents also will receive an informational letter in the mail before June 9 that explains new changes to the annexation ordinances and addresses common questions.

The vote: The town council will make their final vote on the annexation during a special meeting June 18

At a glance

Here’s a look at the changes that the Trafalgar town council is considering to address agricultural land use:

  • Residents could be grandfathered into the town, meaning they can still have controlled fires on their property, keep livestock and grow plants on their land
  • The zoning could stay what the land is used for now. For example, if a residential property is mostly used as a farm for agricultural use, the property would be zoned agriculturally
  • Agricultural property would be exempt from paying property taxes
  • The annexation would go into effect on Dec. 31, 2016 — a year later than originally proposed
  • Property taxes will be phased in over four years.