The Herald Bulletin

August 20, 2013

Editorial: Smith right to challenge Lapel, but costly litigation could ensue

— You can't blame a guy for trying. That is, unless it's going to cost you money.

After his efforts were turned back in March and again in June by a reticent city council, Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith is taking another stab at annexation.

Specifically, Smith's administration has filed a lawsuit in Madison Circuit Court 6 contesting an effort by Lapel area landowners to cut off Anderson's annexation path to Interstate 69 at Exit 214 in southwestern Madison County.

The Lapel contingent is doing what's referred to as a "strip annexation," claiming a long, thin tract of land connecting Lapel to Pendleton at the interstate. The folks who own the land got together and decided to approach the town of Lapel for a "super-voluntary" annexation because they wanted to avoid annexation by Anderson and the likelihood of higher tax rates.

Smith and his attorneys argue that the Lapel annexation, recorded May 30, violates Indiana's Home Rule Act by failing to meet contiguity requirements. State law requires that annexations be a minimum of one-eighth contiguous with existing boundaries, and Lapel's annexation falls far short of that.

Hogwash, say Lapel officials. Town Councilman Clay Parkison believes that super-voluntary annexations don't follow the same set of rules that Smith's attorneys quote.

While some might say that Smith has already lost on this issue twice and is beating his head against the figurative wall, he's right when he points out that the city of Anderson's future is at stake.

The value of real estate in Madison County along I-69 is expected to rise higher and higher as development continues northward along the interstate. Annexing that unincorporated land to the south and west of the city would be a key to expanding the tax base and bringing new commercial, industrial and residential interests into the municipality.

Simply put, the land is well worth fighting for.

But only if Smith's challenge has a fighting chance. If he's grasping at thin air, then there's no sense in putting the city of Anderson and the people of Lapel through this.

A protracted legal battle would be financially costly to both sides, with taxpayers ultimately footing the bill.

Smith should fight against Lapel's annexation effort, but only if he has a fighting chance. Otherwise, his effort could bleed the very city that he's sworn to serve.