UPDATE March 10, 2015: The Apple Family Farm operations are officially closed. Thank you all for your support throughout the past few years! ~Mark & Nora Apple
UPDATE ON THE FORCED ANNEXATION:
We are grieved the Fortville Town Council voted 3-2 on July 15, 2013 to annex the smaller area outlined in red below:
The Forced Annexed area extends to the north side of Ind. 234 and the east side CR 300W, which fortunately eliminates our farm…for now. The Western Boundary plan now includes about 644 acres with only 65 homes. If you do the math, they are still annexing mostly agricultural land with no benefit to the town. The Greenfield Reporter’s headline: Staking a claim. They picked an appropriate headline to describe the actions of the Government of the town of Fortville, Indiana. Council President, Bill Hiday, Council Vice President, Janet Manship, and Councilman Robert Holland, voted in support of the new plan. Councilman Ron Stafford and Councilwoman Nancy Sizemore voted no. Keep in mind, these are elected officials.
The plight of the small farm is well known. We are all strapped for capital. Yet, we will pull together our resources to file a Remonstrance against the Town of Fortville, Indiana. If the forced annexation is successful, being just on the other side of the street, we will be next. If we present to the Judge the evidence that this ordeal is purely a land-grab, the town will not be able to annex for another four years. Hopefully, prayerfully, by then, legislatures will enact laws in the State of Indiana to prohibit further theft of our lands.
At this point, we are too full of emotion from the betrayal of the elected officials of our neighboring town to go into much detail. We will post more as events unroll. The group formed out of this atrocity is Fight Against Forced Annexation Donations would be greatly appreciated: FAFA, Inc., PO Box 24, McCordsville, IN 46055-0024.
Who benefits? Evidence shows the town will not benefit from annexing agricultural land. The landowners will not benefit. That only leaves the town attorney, Alex Intermill; Buzz Krohn of O.W. Krohn and Associates, the firm leading the financial side of the plan; and attorney Stephen Buschmann, the attorney we, the Western Boundary residents, will hire to fight the forced annexation of our farmlands through a Remonstrance. He has had success in the past against the tyranny of forced annexations…we pray for success once again.
The Apple Family Farm has faced quite a few challenges lately. Last year, we were charged 18 months worth of taxes in Vernon Township on our farm (almost $12,000.00) to help the schools recover from their mismanagement. When we allow officials to act fiscally irresponsible, everyone suffers. In recent years, land rents have sky-rocketed. The business we run on our 5th generation family farm (without government subsidies) cannot handle the increase in expenses. We stretched ourselves through the winter to avoid raising our prices. We felt passing on our increased expenses to our faithful patrons was not ethical, even though our government, federal to local, does not hesitate to increase our taxes.
The latest challenge we face is the involuntary annexation of our fifth generation family farm into the nearby town of Fortville, Indiana; though we typically identify ourselves with the town of McCordsville, Indiana, and have a McCordsville address. The almost 6,000 acres proposed, known as the Western Boundary, consist of mostly farm land. Their efforts amount to a massive land grab set to divide the whole community and disrupt generations of farms. No one is against the citizens of Fortville. We are, however, against the control and oppression from the governing bodies and their mismanagement.
As of this writing (6/8/13), forty-seven States enacted laws deeming involuntary annexation illegal due to the negative consequences, especially when annexing farmland. If these were the findings of the committee in 2007, why in 2013 is Indiana lagging behind?
The Indiana Legislative Council found in the 2007 Final Report of the Annexation Study Committee through the Indiana Legislative Services Agency: (1) Involuntary annexations are very costly to fight and can divide a community. (2) Some annexation fiscal plans can be misleading and factually incomplete. (3) An overwhelming majority of municipalities do not use involuntary annexations. (4) Indiana is one of six states (in 2007) that allow involuntary annexation. (5) A well drafted fiscal plan and good communication between the municipality and residents of the annexation territory help the success of an annexation.
In this blog, we will attempt to convey the negative impact of the proposed forced annexation on our community.
The land-grab was hatched in secret by the Fortville Town Council, with the residents finding out about the involuntary annexation upon receiving certified letters at the end of March. The involuntary annexation plan was put on a fast track due to Indiana Senate Bill 376, a bill that would have limited a town’s annexation area, and would have gone into effect this July. But the bill died in the state Legislature. At the Fortville town council public hearing on May 29th, instead of going back to the drawing board and creating a comprehensive plan first, the council voted 3-2 to continue with the involuntary annexation. At the beginning of the hearing, Councilman Ron Stafford moved to abandon the project entirely. Councilwoman Nancy Sizemore was his only supporter. Council President, Bill Hiday, Council Vice President, Janet Manship, and Councilman Robert Holland, voted to continue with the involuntary annexation plan. They are to hold a final vote at either their July 1st or the July 15th meeting.
As most farms are at their tax cap, our issue is not with raised property taxes, but with the exorbitant fees for unnecessary services and the aggressive control over our lands. With recently passed statutes which prevent towns and cities from increasing the taxes on land zoned agricultural, the annexation could result in increased taxes for ALL landowners within the city limits if they succeed with the involuntary annexation in order to cover the expenses created by the required services. Their entitlement mentality will backfire.
With each town council meeting, the elected members’ disrespect and condescending demeanor toward the residents of the Western Boundary indicates their only concern is the perceived money benefited by theft. (Yes, anything taken without permission or compensation is theft.) Several Western Boundary residents tried to convey to the Council that they are not only taking our tax money to fix their problems, but they are hurting the livelihood of generations of farmers. When annexing farmland, which entails most of the proposed annexation, the agricultural lands will be subject to town ordinances. Those ordinances WILL affect the livelihood of farmers by disrupting their ability to adequately farm their own lands.
The Fortville town attorney, Alex Intermill, stated this from the town ordinances about farm animals, “Any existing use of property that is in conflict with a town ordinance would be exempt from enforcement as a pre-existing and non-conforming use…but the law of non-conforming use says that you can’t expand or grow upon that use.” What has not been addressed is the definition of “expand or grow upon that use.” Several farms have cattle. This is our livelihood. The cattle naturally reproduce to replenish the herd. Are we to practice birth control with our livestock? We are all within limits of cattle per acre, but is the Town of Fortville going to see their tax dollars go to pay a “regulator” to check up on every farm to count livestock, to be sure we are not “expanding or growing” upon our use? Sadly…more government control, and cost to the town. As of this week, with three calves born, our farm is already in violation of the law of non-conforming use, which says that you cannot expand or grow. If cattle farmers are not allowed to grow and cull, we will not survive. Grain farmers also will not be able to hold up under the excessive city taxes placed on their farm equipment, sewer, water, storm drainage, etc. Some farmland owners may be faced with having to sell out.
The uninformed residents of the town of Fortville should be educated on the greed and mismanagement of the town council and how this land grab will negatively affect their own property values and taxes. There are no developers coming into this area. In this sagging economy, we will not see development for quite a few years. With American farms losing the battle for survival, the annexed farmland will not be able to sell for the assessed value as new owners will not be allowed to farm within city limits under the “Grandfathering” clause. New owners will have property values reassessed with lowered sales and appraisals. When property values are lowered, tax revenues will drop, and the expected tax income generated from the annexation will be reduced. Yet, the services required will still have to be met and paid from the Fortville town treasury. Are the funds available to cover those services with a decrease in tax revenue? Historically, the town residents’ taxes increase to cover the costs. Anyone in the real estate market will confirm that if one property sells below market value, less than appraised, or forecloses, that sale will affect EVERY property in the surrounding area, including those who live in town. With empty land, lower values, and the town’s negative reputation, the town of Fortville will plummet.
Several arguments have been presented by the Fortville Town Council in an attempt to portray the land-grab as more acceptable. One argument for annexation is that the city will provide beneficial services for the residents of the Western Boundary, such as added police protection, city water, sewer services, and trash pick-up. Yet the Council did not survey the residents to find out if those services were actually needed or wanted. Andrew Smith stated it well, “What it comes down to, then, is that layer of taxation. Simply put, the Western Boundary provides additional taxpayers to the town government. The cost taken involuntarily from these additional taxpayers could never be made up in services rendered – since they’re already being rendered by other entities. As a result, this becomes an involuntary taking of property by government, rather than the protection of it. That idea runs counter to the basic concept of government in the United States.” Most citizens find discourse from politicians very deceptive. As in the case of the Wheel Tax of Madison County, how many times have constituents been betrayed by their elected officials?
The cost to hook up to the sewer lines will be a much added financial burden, and the city water is polluted with hazardous chemicals which would only hurt livestock, especially those of us who farm naturally. The council claims within three years municipal services (water, sewer, trash pick-up, etc.) will be extended throughout the proposed area. Initially, only the cost of hook-up from the residences to the road would be the responsibility of the property owner. But now, according to a fiscal plan developed by the town council, consultant Buzz Krohn and town attorney Alex Intermill, property owners and/or developers would have to foot the entire bill, yet another expense. These expenses will help turn the very few prospective developers away from Fortville. Although owners of existing property will not be required to hook up to their sewer services, the city (city codes) will only need to deem the parcel a detriment to public health and safety to enforce hook-up. In his article, Local Land Grabs, Dan Drexler states, “It does beg the question, “Why now?” The simple answer to that is another question, “Why not?” Here again, Fortville’s biggest annexation proponent, Councilwoman Janet Manship, and her fellow town officials aren’t using their own personal funds to upturn others’ lives. They get the pleasure of using their own constituents’ monies to try to triple the size of the current town. And, similar to Hiatt in Muncie, the targeted landowners have to foot the bill to defend themselves against our own government.”
The council has not adequately addressed their ability to provide police protection. The Western Boundary residents are adequately protected by the county. The residents of Fortville should find out why the council wants to extend the boundary of their already overly expanded police patrol. Do they have the funds to add extra patrol vehicles? When a resident in town calls the police for help, how long will that help arrive when the six patrol cars are several miles away?
We find it humorous when trash pick-up is argued as a benefit for farms. Their sanitation department is not equipped to handle the amount of farm waste for the added 6,000 acres, which means, since trash burning within the city limits is banned, we will need to continue to pay our private companies for services.
At one of the town meetings, a city resident spoke in favor of annexation. He gave the argument that the city would prevent trailers from being erected throughout the county. If he would have done his homework, he would have found that Hancock County has not allowed the installment of trailers in over twenty years.
In short, no one has presented any positive benefit for the Western Boundary residents.
At the Fortville council meeting on May 6th, the council hypocritically threw out the word “Community” but failed to provide proof of where the true meaning of the word is applied in the Town of Fortville. From our observations, we saw only a council set on division.
If this town had “Community” at heart, their efforts would have been better received by spending a few months in an open community involvement campaign.
“Community” is not present with hidden actions, as when the council gave no prior notice of the forced annexation before the residents received certified letters stating the town’s intent.
“Community” is not present without mutual consent.
“Community” is not present when the scales of benefits are tilted to one side.
Studies show, as in the study by The Indiana Legislative Council listed above, involuntary annexation can divide a community. Fortville already has a negative reputation. This is a town whose leaders made a mockery of a resident who raised goats in their back yard for fear they might eat a flower or two, but yet harbors neighbors who house dogs with a history of biting children. Where is the reputation that would entice county residents to WANT to be a part of this town? The town would flourish and grow naturally if the Town Council focused its energies on improving their own character first before trying to oppress their neighbors. The greed of the town council has done nothing but tarnish the already negative reputation of Fortville. The saying is true, “A country (town) divided will not stand.”
Remarks from the town attorney, Alex Intermill, concerning the Western Boundary residents have been quite demeaning. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” healing words which this Council and their Attorney have defiantly ignored. Mr. Intermill (who does not personally live within the county) is quoted as saying, “There is no question that the people who live in this annexation territory use the roads in the town of Fortville more regularly than, say, I do. They’re using the roads, they’re contributing to the maintenance costs and upkeep costs, but they don’t pay anything for that. This changes that. And that’s one of the reasons for the annexation.” And also, “They need to pay for their fair share.” He said acquiring the property would only be beneficial for Fortville, among other statements found in the Greenfield Reporter.
How are such comments building “community”? If the Western Boundary is annexed to “pay their fair share” of the maintenance, is the town going to drop the taxes of the commercial businesses? The businesses of Fortville pay a much higher tax rate, zoned commercial, to enable the city to cover costs of road maintenance and upkeep to entice patrons to conduct business in their town. While we encourage shopping local, those comments make it incredibly hard to support a town that does not believe we are paying our fair share. We find shopping in a neighboring town much more convenient where we will not be guilty of raising their maintenance costs. As for Mr. Intermill’s comments on road usage, two of the main roads running through the town are state highways. Those roads are maintained by the state, not the town. The road in front of our farm is a state highway, maintained by the state, which means we will be paying for unnecessary road service. County landowners pay county and federal taxes that provide grants and kickbacks to the cities in which they do not live. This land-grab simply amounts to more taxation without representation.
In short, Involuntary Annexation efforts amount to government tyranny. Whenever anyone wants to force themselves on you, they are always wrong. If it is physical, we call it assault, molestation, or rape. With government, it is called tyranny. The aggressor attacks because they cannot properly govern themselves. At the council meeting on May 6th, Mrs. Manship asked repeatedly how the Western Boundary residents would be willing to compromise. There is no answer because it is an absurd question. This Town Council has acted aggressively towards their neighbors. It is as ridiculous as a rapist attacking a woman, she fights back, and the rapist asking the victim how she’d be willing to compromise.
We see this tyranny only too clearly from our current White House, and all the way down to our own local school system. Our President took an oath to uphold the Constitution, yet the current and growing scandals are the natural result from how the administration has been forcing themselves on us by violating some, perhaps all of the Bill of Rights our Founders wisely left to us. Tyranny results when entrusted governing bodies cannot control their own appetites and lust for power. Because our national government cannot control themselves and their overspending, we are demanded to pay more. This is not leadership; this is a failure to lead.
On a smaller scale, we see the exact same thing from our school administration. They have mismanaged what they have been entrusted to manage, and they blame everyone and everything except themselves. With raised taxes from the referendum last year, we are expected to pay more to pay for their mismanagement. Because they will not accept responsibility and self-govern, the cycle will likely continue. This is not leadership; this is a failure to lead.
With this issue of annexation by the town of Fortville, the fact that this scheme was hatched in secret, and is being forced on us, is a pretty good indication that it is not good for us, and that they understand that it can only come about if it is forced upon us. It was explained to us that the reason Fortville wants to force themselves on us is so that they can plan their future. Anytime someone says it is not about money, we all know it is all about money. No one should force themselves on others because they cannot manage their own affairs. They have been entrusted to manage the affairs of 1,700 or so acres that is currently in the town limits. Maybe if they managed that exceptionally well first, then they can invite outsiders to willingly join their bustling, vibrant, and growing town, and they may possibly have people with enthusiasm willing to join them. But first, manage the current town well. This is leadership.
This town council being unable to see how we and our rights are threatened by their aggression toward us is much of which fuels us and energizes us, and makes it plain to see why it is so important to stand up to power hungry government bodies that have the power to destroy us, our families, our homes, our businesses, our farms, our lands, and our freedom.
We were all created to live in freedom and liberty, not tyranny. If an idea steals, kills, and destroys, resist it. If it offers life, abundant life, follow it.
Several states, such as North Carolina, have had long fights against involuntary annexations. The North Carolina Bar Association in its article, The Case Against Involuntary Annexation, talks about the abuses of involuntary annexation. North Carolina has recently outlawed involuntary annexation.
In the article by Dan Drexler in Indy Politics – Local Land Grabs, he discusses the case of Ball State University vs. Hiatt Printing Company. The University has plans to erect a $26 million dollar multi-use building near its campus. The University gained favor with locally elected officials and began an eminent domain process against the family-owned Hiatt Printing Company, at great taxpayer expense. Mr. Hiatt initially offered to sell his business and its assets, but BSU President Dr. Jo Ann Gora and the BSU Trustees chose not to negotiate. Instead, on her own documentation offered the court, Dr. Gora chose to proceed with taking the property but without payment of just compensation. Of course, these are our tax dollars paying for their pursuit of Mr. Hiatt’s business. Mr. Hiatt has to foot the bill personally to defend himself from his own government. If Hiatt loses his fight, he admits his forty year-old business could be done. But, the BSU trustees would have their land.
As it stands now, the town council has already increased the taxes of the citizens of Fortville; through the expense of their attempted land-grab, from the nearly $5,000 spent on notifications through certified letters, to the required services for the 6,000 acres not within the budget, to the attorney fees to Mr. Intermill, to the approximately $25,000 in payments to financial consulting firm O.W. Krohn since the project started, to the nearly $50,000 to $100,000 in upcoming attorney fees in the upcoming Remonstrance. Local elections are as imperative as national elections to ensure tax money is spent wisely and the towns are managed well.
No one is against growing the town of Fortville. There are good people who live in the town. The Western Boundary residents are against the town council’s bullying methods. We applaud the two members who voted to stop the process and go back to the drawing board. The town of Fortville has possibilities of becoming an extremely desired town. Our advice to the elected council members: Do your homework. Annex wisely. Have a comprehensive plan. Instead of annexing cherished farmland, have a mechanism in place to annex only if development is imminent. There are residents to the east that have requested to be annexed, but have been ignored. Instead of alienating and obliterating disappearing farmland, focus on creating a vibrant downtown atmosphere. Work to improve the town’s negative reputation. Concentrate on making your town desirable first. Then, and ONLY then, will you see genuine positive growth.