RICH JAMES: Let annexed residents keep vestige of identity

2013-09-18T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Let annexed residents keep vestige of identityBy Rich James nwitimes.com
September 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You would have thought the British invaded America when Hobart Mayor Margaret Kuchta and the City Council annexed a huge section of Ross Township 24 years ago.

The residents of the annexed area – some nine square miles – were livid. They didn’t want to be annexed by anyone, let alone Hobart.

Those Ross Township residents liked their own identity, living on unincorporated land. It was somewhat like Native Americans being surrounded by settlers.

While those unincorporated folks liked their isolationism, they also had somewhat of an affinity for Merrillville.

After all, they were part of Ross Township, as was the case with Merrillville. And, be it town or township, all their children went to Merrillville schools.

Although the annexation was approved in 1989, it wasn’t made official until an Indiana Supreme Court ruling in 1994.

The old-timers are still seething about the annexation. They got higher property taxes, but not much more.

While they remain upset with Hobart, they also aren’t pleased with Merrillville for not trying to block the annexation.

Hobart didn’t really want the residents of unincorporated Ross Township. Hobart wanted Southlake Mall and the entire U.S. 30 commercial conglomerate.

Merrillville wanted it, too, but a town couldn’t annex within three miles of a city. Yet Merrillville officials were laissez-faire about changing the law, and Hobart won.

While the 1989 invasion rattled the Ross Township residents, what Hobart is trying to do now might be worse.

Hobart wants to take away the identity of the people they took over more than 20 years ago. Yep, Hobart wants to strip the annexed folks of their common bond – their ZIP code.

Hobart twice now has sought permission from the U.S. Postal Service to have the ZIP code of the annexed area changed from Merrillville’s 46410 to Hobart’s 46342.

It is somewhat like what happened in Schererville a decade or so ago. Many of the residents on the east side of Schererville had Crown Point mailing addresses. Those with Crown Point ZIP codes defeated a referendum that would have switched their mailing addresses to Schererville. Maybe they liked being “part” of the county seat.

Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said many continue to refer to the annexed area – particularly the extensive commercial strip along U.S. 30 - as Merrillville. And the mayor, who can’t really be blamed for fighting for the change, said that causes identity problems.

I strongly suspect that if you randomly asked Northwest Indiana residents the location of Southlake Mall, nine out of 10 would say Merrillville.

And that’s as it should be. The mall was more a part of Merrillville back then and still is today.

Let those annexed residents keep what remains of their identity – their 46410 ZIP code.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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