The city of Fort Wayne plans to annex close to 23 square miles of land with about 22,000 residents north of the city, Mayor Tom Henry announced Monday.
Dubbed the North IV annexation, the proposed area is bounded generally by Gump and Hursh roads to the north, the Fort Wayne city limits to the south, Schwartz Road to the east and Dunton Road to the west.
Portions of St. Joseph, Perry, Cedar Creek and Milan townships will all be part of the annexation. If approved, the annexed land will increase the city’s population to about 275,000 from the current 253,000.
If approved the annexation will take effect Jan. 1, 2017.
"Recently, urban areas in the Fort Wayne vicinity have continued to expand more and more and develop themselves outside of our current city limits," Henry said. "Because of that, our city limits need to reflect the population of the true urban area. So it’s imperative then, that we continue to enhance our strategic position as a leader in providing our services to the area."
Those services include public safety, public works, and parks, as well as water and sewer resources, Henry said. This is Henry’s first annexation as mayor.
"The majority of the individuals in this area already have city water and sewer," said Pam Holocher, deputy director of community development.
Holocher said the city’s policy has always been to extend services and utilities to new developments outside the city limits. The city would then incorporate those areas at a later time once density and growth occur.
Some residents may be concerned with the property tax implications surrounding the annexation. Holocher said because of property tax caps, about one-third of annexed property owners would have no property tax impact after annexation.
This is the first annexation the city has proposed since 2006, when it incorporated close to 13 square miles of territory to the city’s southwest in Aboite Township, adding about 22,587 residents.
The proposed annexation must be approved by the City Council. Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said the council hasn’t yet seen all the particulars of the plan and could not say whether it will ultimately be approved. However, Crawford did say that as a concept, he supports annexation. The annexed territories will fall within City Council districts 1, 2 and 3.
People who are annexed tend to have a lot of questions and plenty of reservations, Crawford said.
Opponents do have avenues through which they can try to stop the annexation.
Thanks to a law passed by the Indiana General Assembly last year, it is harder for municipalities to annex territory. The amended law automatically voids any annexation if 65 percent of the landowners – or those representing 80 percent of the assessed value of the territory to be annexed – sign a petition protesting the annexation. Opponents will be given 90 days to collect signatures. If at least 51 percent of property owners sign the petition, the matter will be decided by a judge.
If the matter ends up in court, the city must prove that annexation is in the best interests of the landowners in the affected area.
The law states the city must also present a detailed fiscal plan for the annexation and conduct an outreach program to inform citizens of the proposed annexation six months prior to introducing an annexation ordinance. There must be six public information sessions regarding the annexation. During those sessions, the city must provide citizens maps showing the proposed boundaries of the annexation territory, proposed plans and dates for extension of services and the expected fiscal impact on taxpayers in the affected area.
The additional population means Fort Wayne’s public safety crews will have to handle about 5,000 more emergency calls per year, Public Safety Director Rusty York said. He said that plans are already in motion to add 18 additional police officers to cover the new territory. Twelve of those new officers will be in place by Jan. 1, and the remaining six in place by the end of 2017.
The plan also calls for a new fire station, about 18 additional firefighters and some new fire trucks, Henry said. York noted that an additional engine will likely be added to Fire Station 16 until a new engine house is built.
The city administration hopes the City Council will approve the fiscal plan for the annexation by May 10, at which time an ordinance approving the annexation itself will be introduced. Holocher said the city hopes the annexation will be approved sometime over the summer.
Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this report.