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Law might yield path to town

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A proposal to create a new town of Center Grove has led state lawmakers to look at revamping the law so voters could decide themselves.

Creating a new town currently requires getting 50 signatures and the approval of at least two of three county commissioners, but state lawmakers who represent parts of Johnson County said that’s not enough.

State Reps. John Price, Woody Burton and David Frizzell are proposing legislation that would add the option of a referendum, if county commissioners would prefer to let the people decide instead of voting themselves for or against creating a new town. The proposal also would require 10 percent of residents to sign a petition that would start the process of creating a town, or at least 2,800 residents in the case of a new town of Center Grove.

Jody Veldkamp, a board member for the Citizens for Center Grove group that’s working to create a new town, said the 10 percent threshold seemed reasonable. He said the group would be interested in pursuing a referendum on a new town if that were an option.

“The commissioners could vote on it or let the people vote, but they could still make it stop without giving the public a vote,” Veldkamp said. “One side may be unsatisfied, one way or the other. We’d like a referendum since the current commissioners wouldn’t look favorably on it, but the other side would probably want a

referendum if the commissioners did look favorably on it.”

Citizens for Center Grove wants the final legislation to address more issues with the process of creating a town, such as why only one property owner per household could sign a petition when everyone could vote in the referendum and who would set up a town if voters approved it, Veldkamp said.   

They’d also like to see it abolish a requirement that town advocates send certified mail to every property owner, since people don’t always go and sign for such letters and governments just have to publish notices in newspapers.

Anne Reaume, an organizer of efforts to defeat the proposed town, said she thought a referendum would be fair.

She said she’d campaign against a town proposal and doubted it would garner much support at the polls, because people generally don’t like paying higher taxes.

Citizens for Center Grove already turned in 50 signatures and a petition to create a town, but commissioners Ron West and Tom Kite said any further consideration of the proposal should be delayed until after the new legislation has an opportunity to be approved in the statehouse.

They said a proposed town government for the part of White River Township that’s not in Greenwood or Bargersville ought to go to a referendum, if lawmakers approve the changes to the law.

The bill that Price authored got preliminary approval last week from the local government

committee. The legislation still would have to be approved by the full house of representatives and then the senate by the time the session ends in April, and then get signed by the governor.

Burton said the proposal addresses the concern of residents about not having a say or voice in whether they’d live in a town.

He said seniors on fixed incomes were especially concerned about not being able to vote on the issue, because they worried about whether they could afford additional property taxes for a new town government.

The legislation leaves most of the current process in place for creating a town, Price said.

Proponents, for instance, would still have to submit the same amount of paperwork, such as a list of services the new town would provide.

But 50 signatures would no longer be enough, because that’s an outdated requirement, Price said. The unincorporated Center Grove area has about 30,000 residents, and 50 signatures doesn’t show much public support, he said.

A more fair requirement would be to base the number of signatures needed on percentage, since unincorporated communities can vary widely in population, he said.

“I want to make it as fair and equitable as possible,” Price said.

Once town advocates got signatures from 10 percent of residents, they’d turn in a petition to the county commissioners.

The current law requires that the commissioners conduct a public hearing, and then vote on whether or not to create a new town.

Price said his proposal would still allow county commissioners to vote for or against the creation of a new town government.

But they’d also get a third option: to turn the question over to voters and have a referendum.

Kite said Center Grove area voters should decide themselves whether they want a town, because it’s a permanent decision they would have to live with indefinitely.

“A majority of voters in the affected area should be in favor of it,” he said. “They should set their own course. I don’t think it’s very fair for 30 or 50 or 80 or 100 people to decide that if a town suits them. It ought to happen for everybody.”

A referendum would be the best possible way to decide whether to create a town, because it would put the power in the hands of the taxpayers who are going to be affected by it, West said.

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