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Town of Center Grove on hold until new commissioners settle in

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A group intends to postpone bringing forward a proposal to create a new town of Center Grove when new Johnson County commissioners take office.

The proposal would have to be approved by the commissioners, but a majority of those who will be in office in January said they don’t support creating a new town in White River Township.

Two of the three commissioners said they have mostly heard criticism of the town proposal from residents, don’t see the point of adding another tax for a town government and don’t want to raise taxes for anyone. The commissioners said they believe Center Grove area residents are largely satisfied with the existing county services and don’t want to pay more for a new town government.

The third commissioner said he needed more information.

At a glance

A proposal to create a new town of Center Grove will come before a new group of commissioners who take office in January.

What: A proposal to create a town government that would serve about 27,000 residents in unincorporated White River Township.

What it means: Residents would elect town officials, pay a town tax and have to follow town rules. The town would become responsible for police protection, road maintenance and other services but would hire the county to continue providing them.

Where: The part of White River Township that’s not in Greenwood or Bargersville

Background: A group calling for a new town presented a proposal to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners last year, but the county found several technical issues and sent it back.

Status: The group planned to bring the proposal back in January but now wants to give two newly elected commissioners more time to adjust to their offices while Citizens for Center Grove meets with them individually.

Votes: Two of the three commissioners who will begin terms in January said they would be unlikely to support the proposal because of residents’ concerns and one said the group should postpone it.

Suggestion: New commissioner Ron West said the Citizens for Center Grove group should wait to see if the state legislature changes the law to require a public referendum before a town is created.

Citizens for Center Grove, the group that’s been calling for a new town of about 27,000 residents, is contacting individual commissioners, board spokesman Jody Veldkamp said. He said the group plans to tell them about the proposal and what it would mean and answer any questions they might have.

Veldkamp said the group of residents plans to delay its earlier plan of bringing the proposal back to the commissioners in January so they can have more time to settle into office, Veldkamp said.

Voters elected new commissioners Ron West and in November. Veldkamp said his group wanted to give them more time to get used to their new positions before bringing them an issue as major as whether to create the first new town in Johnson County since Prince’s Lakes was formed in 1956.

“On January 1st, we don’t want to say, ‘Here’s a really big decision,’” he said. “We’ll work with the commissioners, talk to them and answer any questions. There’s time and no need to rush this through.”

The group will come up with a new timeline for how to proceed after talking to individual commissioners and hearing what they have to say, Veldkamp said.

West said that Citizens for Center Grove should consider postponing their efforts for the time being because the town proposal doesn’t have the votes needed to pass. He said he didn’t see the purpose of creating a new town government at a time when most White River Township residents are content with the services they’re getting.

Commissioner Tom Kite also said he couldn’t vote for the plan unless an overwhelming majority of residents asked for it.

Raising the thousands of dollars needed to mail out notices to affected property owners would be senseless when the commissioners likely wouldn’t approve a proposal, West said.

The group Citizens for Center Grove instead should wait to see whether the legislature will act on requests from residents that a referendum be required in order to create a town, he said.

West said he believed state lawmakers would try to abolish the current rule that allows a town to be created with 50 signatures and the approval of the county commissioners in favor of a direct public vote. He said he’d prefer to see that debate play out in the Statehouse before any local action is taken on the town of Center Grove proposal.

“I would hate for them to spend thousands of dollars for a certified mailing, $40,000 to $50,000, if it’s a waste of the money,” he said. “Let’s just wait to see what the General Assembly does with the referendum process, if they change that somehow.”

West said most residents he’s talked to, such as while campaigning, don’t see the benefit of paying higher taxes for a new town. He had heard concerns about whether town government would be financially feasible and if it would cost more than expected. He said residents were especially concerned about town taxes and bureaucracy growing over time.

“They can’t see the benefit of paying higher taxes for the services they get now,” he said. “Why pay more?”

Kite said he couldn’t vote for a new town of Center Grove unless a large majority of White River Township residents of all ages and income levels told him they wanted a town. He said that, so far, he’s mostly heard opposition from residents who don’t want higher taxes or don’t see the point of forming a town.

“Everyone knows where I stand,” he said. “My opinion hasn’t changed.”

Baird, who takes office in January, said that he didn’t have all the information he needed about the proposal to create a town.

“I’d need to hear from both sides and get all the information to make a decision,” he said. “I do want to hear from the public and know where the majority stands.”

Baird said he would base his decision on what’s best for everyone and also what the majority of residents say they want.

“I’ll represent the majority of the people while making decisions,” he said. “But the people need to speak. We’ll have a public meeting for that, and we need to be well-informed on it.”

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