Passage of Senate Bill 430 Paves the Way for an Operating Agreement with Citizens Energy, Institutes Tax Caps, User Fees Limits, and Removal of Eminent Domain
March 5, 2020 – GEIST RESERVOIR, IN – Organizers for the Geist Conservancy District announced today the successful passage of SB 430 in the Indiana State Senate and House which amends the current Indiana State Conservancy District Act (IC 14-33). This bill will now go on to Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk to sign into law.
“We are very pleased with the outcome,” said Brian Hall, President of the Geist Lake Coalition. “With these changes in the law, we will be able to negotiate an operating agreement with Citizens Energy, the owner of Geist Reservoir, and address concerns among future Geist Conservancy District residents who were worried about tax caps, user fees, and eminent domain.”
Senate Bill 430 was co-authored by long-time Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt and Senator Mark Messmer after several meetings with Geist Conservancy District organizers and attorneys. Representative David Wolkins sponsored the bill. After the first reading on January 27 at the Indiana Statehouse, attorneys for Citizens Energy, Marina Limited Partnership, and the Geist Conservancy District negotiated the final bill and amendment that was approved by the Indiana House of Representatives on February 27, 2020.
With just over 3,900 properties and an estimated $2 million per year budget, the Geist Conservancy District will be the largest of all conservancy districts in the State of Indiana. Legislators, stakeholders, and freeholders in the proposed district all had concerns with the future powers of such a district. Senate Bill 430 addressed these concerns by amending Indiana Conservancy Act (IC 14-33).
In short, SB 430 puts a special benefits tax cap in place of no more than $2 million per year and clarifies that the new District would be subject to the Allen County $.0667 per $100 of assessed value tax cap.
“Tax caps were a hot topic amongst many within the proposed district,” said Cory Peter, Chair of the Geist Conservancy District Steering Committee. “Having safeguards to keep the future elected Conservancy District in check is a good thing for all of us.”
To address the recreational users’ concerns, SB 430 limits the amount the District can charge for an annual boat sticker at no more than 150% of the fees charged to in-district boaters, and places a cap of no more than 17% of the annual sticker fee to be charged for a daily boat permit.
“We talked to several fishermen during the course of this process and wanted to make sure they are always welcome to enjoy Geist Reservoir just as they have in the past,” added Hall.
Addressing the concerns of Citizens Energy and other local landowners around Geist Reservoir, SB 430 eliminates the future District’s eminent domain rights as well. This provision was important to Citizens Energy as they did not want the District to be able to trump their existing rights around the reservoir.
Both eminent domain and tax caps were important issues to the Indianapolis Yacht Club, which issued a statement last week in support of the Geist Conservancy District.
“I am happy to announce that with the passing of Senate Bill 430, the tax cap has been added and the eminent domain threat has been removed,” said Lori Stadick, Commodore of the Indianapolis Yacht Club in an email communication to their membership. “IYC will now support the formation of the Conservancy District at Geist.”
Once the District is formed, the first order of the new Geist Conservancy District will be to negotiate an operating agreement with Citizens Energy to maintain the reservoir.
“Having the current law amended so that we are able to draft and adopt an operating agreement with Citizens Energy was the cornerstone of this legislation,” said Matt Troyer, attorney with Denton’s representing the Geist Conservancy District.