Stopping the Indiana Land Grab
Indiana cities, towns, and even rural communities are aggressively snatching up Hoosier farmland, and Indiana farmers are fighting back. Annexation is one of the battlegrounds in the Indiana General Assembly that has farmers and local governments at odds. Don Villwock, President of Indiana Farm Bureau, says vast tracts of farmland are being forcibly annexed, “In Hendricks County, the city of Brownsburg wants to annex over 6,000 acres.” He added they do not even have a plan for the land, “It is not like they have some big company wanting to come in and build something.”
Villwock says it is not only larger cities that are in on the land grab, but even smaller rural communities like Montgomery in Davies County, “They want to annex 900 acres around Montgomery, Indiana, population between 300 and 400; that is about as rural as you can get.” He added the city fathers want the land to help increase the town’s tax base, “They are my poster child for this annexation of farmland issue.”
Farm Bureau has made stopping this forced annexation a top legislative priority during this session, but Villwock admits, it is going to be a tough fight. He said local governments want to hold on to this power and are fighting back against farmers’ efforts to protect their land. “It is going to be a close vote,” he stated.
In other legislative news:
Last Tuesday in the Senate Tax & Fiscal Committee, Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) presented SB 423 which outlined a new appeal system that would have set up a system of district PTABOAs to provide uniformity and streamlined procedures for taxpayers. Amid concerns from county assessors, the measure moved to an option for counties to form a joint PTABOA to reduce costs and provide consistency. Katrina Hall supported the effort to make the appeals system more responsive to taxpayers who question their assessments. In the House on Thursday, HB 1603, authored by Sen. Ben Smaltz (R- Auburn), was heard by Ways and Means. HB 1603, as introduced, also included a system of district PTABOAs, which was removed by amendment but primarily focused on notifying local taxing units about the impact of appeals so that they can recover shortfalls created by taxpayer refunds. INFB testified to the need for review of the appeals process, but reminded the committee that, if all deadlines are met, the law already allowed for recovery of lost funds. The bill was held for additional amendments.
WATER BILLS MOVE IN SENATE COMMITTEE The Senate Environmental Affairs Committee heard two bills related to collecting data about water resources. SB 473, Sen. Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), will establish a voluntary network for monitoring aquifer levels. Farmers Robert Guenther and Mike Morehouse, both members of the INFB Water Resources Policy Advisory Group, testified in support of the bill and the need to better determine available water resources and impacts from use before any recommendations are made to restrict water use. The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 8-0.
A second bill offered by Charbonneau, SB 474, requires collection of information from certain water utilities. Farm Bureau supported this measure as a step to better understanding how water can be provided to rural areas, in which ground water is generally unavailable for any uses, including residential. The bill passed by a vote of 8-0.
WINE BILL PASSES SENATE SB 113, Sen. Boots (R-Crawfordsville), passed the Senate by a vote of 40-10. The bill removes the requirements for a face-to-face contact before a winery can ship wine to a customer. The new legislation will allow a winery to ship its products to a customer upon proof of age and under penalty of perjury. It is anticipated that passage of this bill will expand the market for Indiana wines and lead to more wine grape production in the state.