Annexation in Indiana has been a widely debated topic of discussion — one which has shown up recently in the town of Brookville.

By definition, annexation is a legal process where municipalities move their boundaries and expand. This article is intended to provide a better understanding of annexation as a stand-alone issue with an overview of the annexation process.

There are different forms of annexation, including voluntary, involuntary and a super-voluntary.

A voluntary annexation is landowner initiated, with a simple majority petitioning for annexation. A landowner can file a petition for each parcel of land a landowner possesses.

A super-voluntary is when 100 percent of landowners petition the town for annexation.

An involuntary annexation is municipality initiated. This article will focus on voluntary annexation.

According to Indiana Code 36-4-3-5, if a landowner owns land located outside a municipality, he or she may file a voluntary petition for annexation subject to specific requirements. One specific requirement is the land touches the municipality. The petition must be signed by a simple majority of owners of land in the area sought to be annexed or by 75 percent of the total assessed value of the land.

Indiana Code 36-4-3-1.7 requires educational annexation outreach programs to inform citizens about the proposed annexation. These programs are to be held no earlier than six months before a municipality introduces an annexation ordinance. They are information-only meetings. The code states, for voluntary annexations, the outreach program must conduct at least three public informational meetings regarding the proposed annexation. A minimum of a 30-days-notice must be given by publication and by mail to the landowners.

The public information meetings must provide citizens the following information: maps showing the proposed boundaries of the annexation territory and proposed plans for extension of capital and noncapital services in the annexation territory, including proposed dates of extension and the expected fiscal impact on taxpayers in the annexation territory, including any increase in taxes and fees.

Public hearing and proper notice is required prior to adopting an annexation ordinance. Notice of a public hearing must be published at least 60 days before the scheduled hearing. Interested parties must be given the opportunity to speak. The municipality must wait at least 30 but no longer than 60 days after the public hearing to adopt the ordinance.

Before annexation could occur, Indiana law also requires a fiscal plan to be developed and adopted by the municipality. The fiscal plan allows residents to see what services would be provided to them if the annexation ordinance is adopted. The fiscal plan should include information such as cost estimates for planned services, methods of financing the services, plans to organize and extend services, soft services such as police and fire and non-capital services such as sewage and water. After reviewing the fiscal plan, and after public meetings are held, those who signed the petitions have the ability to withdraw if they believe the fiscal plan does not meet their needs. For a full list of topics included in the fiscal plan, reference Indiana Code 36-4-3-13.

The municipality must also send notice to each real property owner whose property is located within the territory proposed to be annexed as shown on the county auditor's current tax list. The mailed legal notice must include the following information: a legal description of the property to be annexed; date, time, location and subject of the hearing; a map showing municipal boundaries and proposed municipal boundaries; current zoning classifications for the proposed annexation area and any proposed zoning changes, and a summary of the fiscal plan. Information also required is a statement the municipality provides a copy of the fiscal plan, if applicable, immediately after the fiscal plan is adopted, to any landowner in the annex-ed territory requesting a copy. The name and telephone number of a representative of the municipality who may be contacted for further information must also be included.

There must be 60 days between the time the annexation ordinance was introduced and the date of the public hearing. Interested parties must have the opportunity to speak. A municipality must wait at least 30 days after the public hearing to adopt the ordinance, but no longer than 60 days.

Should the municipality adopt the voluntary annexation ordinance, those opposing the annexation still have the ability to remonstrate. Remonstrate is an Indiana annexation term similar to objecting. Remonstrance petitions must be filed no later than 90 days after the notice of the adoption of the annexation ordinance. After a municipality adopts an annexation ordinance in accordance with all applicable notice and hearing requirements the annexation may not proceed unless the annexing municipality completes the procedures set forth in section 11.

The proper officers of the municipality must give notice of the applicability of the remonstrance process by providing notice by: publication in accordance with IC 5-3-1; and first class mail or certified mail with return receipt requested, or any other means of delivery that includes a return receipt; to the circuit court clerk and to owners of real property described in section 2.2 of this section of Indiana Code. Notice under this section must be published and mailed or delivered on the same date that notice of the adoption of the annexation ordinance is published under section seven of this portion of Indiana Code.

The notice of the applicability of the remonstrance process must state the following: Any owners of real property within the area proposed to be annexed who want to remonstrate against the proposed annexation must complete and file remonstrance petitions in compliance with Indiana Code. The notice must state: that remonstrance petitions must be filed not later than 90 days after the date that notice of the adoption of the annexation ordinance and the last date that remonstrance petitions must be filed with the county auditor to be valid.

The notice of applicability of remonstrance must provide the following information regarding each location: the address of the location and dates and hours in which the remonstrance petition can be signed.

Beginning the day after publication of the notice under section 11.1 of this portion of Indiana Code and ending not later than 90 days after that publication, the municipality is required to do the following: Have at least one location in the offices of the municipality where a person may sign a remonstrance petition during regular business hours. At least one additional location that is available for at least five days, where a person may sign a remonstrance petition.

The location must meet the following requirements: The location must be in a public building owned or leased by the state or a political subdivision, including a public library, community center, or parks and recreation building; and located within the boundaries of the municipality or the annexation territory.

The location must be open according to the following:  On a day that the location is open on a weekday, the location must be open at a minimum from 5 to 9 p.m. On a day that the location is open on a Saturday or Sunday, the location must be open at least four  hours during the period from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
An additional location may not be open on a day that is a legal holiday. At any location and during the hours that a remonstrance petition may be signed, the municipality shall have a person present: to witness the signing of remonstrance petitions; and  who shall swear and affirm before a notary public that the person witnessed each person sign the remonstrance petition. Indiana Code 36-4-3-11.2 and 11.3 can be referenced for further information on remonstrance signature requirements and forms. 

Annexation may be appeal-ed if a written remonstrance is signed by one of the following: at least 51 percent but less than 65 percent of the owners of the land and the owners of at least 60 percent but less than 80 percent in assessed value of the land in the annexed territory. The annexation territory may not be considered part of the municipality until entry of a final unappealable judgement. 

In the event the legislative body fails to pass the ordinance within 150 days after the date of filing the petition, petitioners can file a duplicate petition with the circuit or superior court. In this case, it would be the circuit court. The court would then make a determination the annexation may take place only if the evidence introduced establishes that: essential municipal services and facilities are not available to residents seeking annexation, the municipality is physically and financially able to provide municipal services to the territory seeking annexation, the population density of the territory is at least three persons per acre and the territory is contiguous to the municipality.

An article on a localized view of annexation will be published in a future edition of the Brookville Democrat/American.