The Issue: The Van Meter City Council is considering an 80/20 voluntary annexation of an area southeast of town known as "Hickory Lodge." 

Local Impact: The annexation could result an a tax increase of as much as 42 percent for the four homes already built out there, according to one homeowner. New homes and developers, however, would benefit from the new tax abatement in the City of Van Meter. 

The Van Meter City Council is currently in the process of a possible 80/20 voluntary annexation of an area known as Hickory Lodge, consisting of approximately 120 acres to the east of the current city limits out to Tabor Road and south of F90. The Council held a public hearing on Thursday, Dec. 21 to allow existing homeowners in the area to express their opinions about the annexation.

The proposed annexation would benefit the developers who own land out there as well as future home owners who would be able to take advantage of the city's tax abatement. There are currently four homes out there that were built prior to the tax abatement taking effect, and those homeowners would see a significant increase in their property taxes if the annexation were to go through.

One homeowner in the area, James Fennessey, expressed that he understood why the annexation benefits the city, but also stated that he feels it is unfair to the current homeowners within the Hickory Lodge development, saying he would be looking at about a 42 percent tax increase eventually. If the city were to proceed with the proposed annexation, it would affect resale values in the future.

“If this goes into place, I feel like you're separating the development and, in the future, if I go to sell my home and my neighbor's in plats one through three are trying to sell their house, my significantly higher tax rate is going to bring down the value of the house,” Fennessey said. “At the same time, over the next few years, if my neighbors in plats one through three are trying to sell their house, they're competing against new construction with tax abatement in plats four and five.”

Hickory Lodge has a homeowners association with the homeowners paying homeowners association fees for things like road maintenance in the area as well.

Another Hickory Lodge homeowner, Ryan Chapman, expressed concern about the urgency with which he feels the annexation is being presented to the public.

“It doesn't seem the way to conduct business in a fair and democratic matter,” Chapman said. “If anything it looks very suspect, in that why is this being forced through in the middle of the night, and the end of the year with a lame duck city council.”

City Council member, Lyn Lyon, stressed the importance of annexation and that the burden of funding public safety, parks and recreation, road upgrades and maintenance, and other city departments and services, cannot fall on roughly 430 homeowners they have in the city.

“If we don't increase our footprint, we can't grow much more organically,” Lyon said. “We don't have the topography, we've got a river, we've got farmers that choose not to sell their ground. We can't grow within the confines of our city limits, so we're going to continue to saddle 430 homes, families, with all the costs of this city being vital. We can't do it.”

Lyon also mentioned that the city of West Des Moines has been annexing west towards Van Meter, and the city of Waukee has been moving south towards Van Meter.

“We are going to be a stranded little iceberg out here if we don't expand our footprint,” Lyon said. “I am 100 percent for annexation and I hope we can do it more to expand our footprint… It's unfortunate that four houses were built there (Hickory Lodge) prior to the annexation.”

Lyon also said that there were never any “midnight meetings” regarding the annexation, mentioning that every action they take and every meeting they have is published on the city website.

Council member Kim Sacker also expressed concerns with other cities annexing towards Van Meter, saying the moratoriums with cities in the surrounding area will expire soon.

Interest was expressed from both sides, the council and the homeowners, in pushing the official public hearing and vote on the annexation out until 2018 after the three new City Council members have been sworn in and there is time for the council and the homowners to sit down and come to the best solution for them.

The next city council meeting, with the public hearing and vote on the annexation will take place on Monday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Veterans Reception Center. Prior to that, the homeowners and the City Council will be trying to set up a work session after the first of the year.