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Debate over town going strong: Center Grove plan on hold until next year but petition drives continue

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A plan to make part of the Center Grove area into a town is on hold, but people who are for and against the town aren’t slowing their efforts.

Residents who oppose the proposed town plan to have two more drive-through petition drives in October and a booth at the Bargersville Flea Market where people can sign petitions against the town. Organizers said they’ll try to get enough signatures to block consideration of the Center Grove town proposal but will settle for enough to persuade the Johnson County Commissioners to reject it.

Supporters are trying to get enough pledges of donated money to send out a mass mailing to every property owner in the Center Grove area, since they’re required by law to tell property owners through certified mail when and where a public hearing will be. They’re planning more neighborhood meetings, considering another public meeting on how town government would work and looking to do a video that tells the story of Center Grove.

They also are making required fixes to their town petition and encouraging their supporters to contact the commissioners to let them know they want more representation through a new town government.

The nonprofit community group Citizens for Center Grove is asking the commissioners to vote to create a new town of about 27,000 residents in the unincorporated part of White River Township, but the commissioners said the petition contained a few technical errors that have to be fixed before they could accept it.

The group then decided to wait until next year before resubmitting their petition, so that two new commissioners don’t take office in the middle of a process that requires the commissioners to conduct a public hearing and vote.

Supporters said a town would offer more local representation, give residents more control over what gets built down the street and allow more tax dollars to stay in the community. Opponents said it would raise property taxes, that residents can’t afford any more tax hikes, and that the higher taxes wouldn’t result in enough additional services or benefits to make it worthwhile.

Both sides are still active during the delay because they want to gain more support and get residents to tell the commissioners what they think. They’re both concerned that a number of township residents haven’t heard of or aren’t familiar with the town proposal.

Under the proposal to form a town, residents would pay a new town tax, have the opportunity to serve on town boards and get a town government to go to with concerns such as tall grass on a neighbor’s property. The town would become responsible for services such as planning, police protection and road maintenance, though the plan calls for hiring the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Johnson County Highway Department to continue to serve the area.

Opposition group organizer Marian Martin said residents still have many unanswered questions, and her group would like to try to answer them at a public meeting on the town proposal. The group of about 30 people hasn’t set a time or date or reached a final decision on whether to have the meeting.

Citizens for Center Grove has had two public meetings, last year and in June, to explain its proposal to residents. They want to keep reaching out through small meetings with residents and groups of their neighbors and possibly have another public meeting before the end of the year on the workings of a proposed town government, community group member Jody Veldkamp said. Citizens for Center Grove also needs additional volunteers, such as to help revise a population count for the area, to put together a promotional video or to offer legal advice.

Opponents are asking people to contact the county commissioners and Greenwood City Council members to reject the proposal and also are asking state lawmakers to change the law to require a referendum so everyone can have a say.

They’re encouraging people to talk to their neighbors or homeowners associations about the tax increase that would come with a town.

The opponents want to reach out to more people, including those who still aren’t aware that there’s a proposal to create a town government, Martin said.

They’re looking at ways they might be able to send a mailed message to every household, especially one that could include a short yes-or-no survey that residents could mail back to the commissioners. If the group takes that option, they likely would need to raise donations to take out ads in a coupon mailer, Martin said.

The group would prefer to block the project without spending that money, such as by convincing Greenwood City Council members to reject the creation of a new town so close to their borders, Martin said. She said she would prefer that residents not have to donate money to either side.

“It would be a shame for (Citizens for Center Grove) to raise $50,000 to send mail to all those people for the public hearing if Greenwood’s just going to vote it down anyway,” she said. “That money could go to Center Grove High School scholarships instead of an imaginary town. We’ve got a school system that they’re trying to make into a town.”

The group plans to have more drive-thru petition drives, which are expected to take place at North Grove Elementary School, 3280 W. Fairview Road. So far the group has collected about 1,600 signatures from people who don’t want a town, organizer Ann Reaume said.

Reaume presented the commissioners with 1,200 signatures last month to show the level of opposition in the community. But the county attorney told both her and Citizens for Center Grove that they should have gotten signatures with affidavits testifying under penalty of perjury that the person signing it is a White River Township property owner.

The group has since fixed their petitions and gathered 400 more signatures. Reaume said the group would like to get about 6,000 signatures, or 51 percent of the property owners in the proposed town. Under state law, that’s the number that would be required to stop the commissioners from voting on the proposal.

Since that’s a huge number of property owners, the group would be happy to have enough signatures to show the commissioners that township residents don’t want higher taxes or a town, Reaume said. They’re also getting phone numbers so they can get people who signed petitions against the town to attend the public hearing that’s been delayed until next year.

“They’ll have to vote against it if there’s 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 people telling them they don’t want it,” Reaume said. “You’ll have that many people who are mad about their taxes and don’t want to be forced into some dinky little town.”

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