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3/27/2010 2:24:00 PM
Legal bills mount in Greenwood-Bargersville annexation fight
By the numbers
Greenwood is considering setting aside more money to pay professional expenses, including legal fees for up to four lawsuits related to its attempted annexation south into the Center Grove area

$289,896 - Amount Greenwood has spent in sewer fees to pay Bingham McHale to sue Bargersville to block its State Road 135 annexation

$286,000 - What Bargersville has spent in property tax and sewer fees to pay Barnes & Thornburg to research and defend the case

$2,456 - Total Greenwood has paid so far in property tax dollars to pay Bingham McHale to defend the city from a lawsuit that residents filed to block its annexation south along State Road 135

$100,000 - Amount Greenwood plans to set aside for professional expenses, including upcoming legal fees

Joseph S. Pete, Daily Journal of Johnson County

Greenwood has spent more than $290,000 on two lawsuits that followed an attempted annexation south into the Center Grove area, and the city expects added legal expenses on as many as four lawsuits.

The Greenwood City Council is looking to set aside $100,000 for professional fees as the city's legal costs mount. The city predicts more legal expenses over land in White River Township, city director of operations Norm Gabehart said.

Greenwood sued Bargersville to block a competing annexation along State Road 135, and the city appealed a judge's ruling in favor of the town.

A group of residents then sued the city, saying Greenwood's annexation was invalidated after the ruling carved part of it out. Johnson County also is looking at asking a judge whether that annexation should be recognized.

City officials also are considering whether to file a second lawsuit against Bargersville to overturn the town's two later annexations into White River Township, which Greenwood is trying to merge with.

Greenwood will have more legal bills for the appeal and to defend the lawsuit annexation area residents filed and could have to hire lawyers for up to four lawsuits, Gabehart said.

"We expect to have some legal bills coming up," he said. "You have to plan ahead."

Greenwood has looked into asking a judge to decide if the merger study should take precedence over the town's annexations because the study started first. The city could consider suing after a merger referendum is scheduled, city attorney Shawna Koons said.

"The issue is ripe for adjudication once the legislative bodies have taken action to place it on the ballot," she said. "The legislative bodies will have to vote again on the plan since they are amending it."

Bargersville annexed two areas totaling about 15 square miles in southern White River Township after the landowners launched a petition drive to become part of the town, so they wouldn't be merged into Greenwood. The annexations went into effect at the beginning of this year, so any lawsuit would be frivolous at this point, town attorney Nicholas Kile said.

Together, Greenwood and Bargersville already have spent more than $570,000 in property taxes, sewer and other utility fees on the lawsuit over who can annex land along State Road 135.

The case is before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Greenwood has paid about $290,000 from sewer fees that developers and new homeowners pay to Bingham McHale, which is handling the city's lawsuit against Bargersville, according to the clerk-treasurer's office.

Bargersville has spent about $268,000 from utility fees and property taxes on its defense, legal research and negotiating to have an out-of-county judge, Kile said.
The Greenwood City Council voted last year to explore another lawsuit against the town so that the city would merge with all of White River Township, including the area south of Stones Crossing Road where residents asked to be annexed into Bargersville. The council would not need to cast another vote to file litigation to settle which community had the first claim to the southern Center Grove area, Koons said.

Greenwood could file a lawsuit any time after the city council and White River Township Board schedule a referendum, but a court likely wouldn't decide the matter until after the public vote, she said.

The council would have to decide whether the city attorney's office should handle the litigation or if the city should hire another law firm to assist with the lawsuit, Koons said. The $100,000 transfer could help pay for attorneys' fees if the council decides to bring in an outside firm.

The council is considering whether to transfer $100,000 from its savings to the budget for professional services. The council has about $20,000 budgeted to hire professionals such as financial consultants, engineers and attorneys, according to the clerk-treasurer's office.

Recently, the city spent about $2,400 from that account to pay Bingham McHale to defend the city from a legal challenge annexation area residents filed to block to the city's annexation south into White River Township. Johnson County also hired an attorney to review whether the county should recognize that annexation, since a judge's ruling carved out part of the area that Greenwood originally planned to annex.

Attorney Steve Huddleston has been checking into whether state law would allow a partial annexation and is expected to get back to the commissioners next week, commissioner John Price said. The county then would decide whether to ask a judge for guidance before certifying the annexation as official.

Disputes and differing interpretations mean that Greenwood has to be prepared to pay legal expenses with a number of pending lawsuits, Gabehart said.

"There are a lot of legal issues that have to be resolved," he said. "We're hoping that this money can take care of that."


Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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