Courts in the Classroom
Supreme Court of Indiana
Division of State Court Administration
30 S. Meridian Street, Ste 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Dr. Elizabeth R. Osborn
Public History and
2011 Outstanding Public
History Project Award
from the National Council
on Public History
Home is where you find it. But what if you were to wake up and find you're in a different state?
In the next few years, it's conceivable that could be the case for thousands of people on the Indiana-Michigan border. The Indiana General Assembly recently opened the door to the possibility by passing Senate Bill 530, allowing for creation of a commission that will retrace the survey of the original 1827 Indiana-Michigan boundary.
Signed into law two weeks ago, the bill expires on July 1, 2015. Essentially, that means the commission has until then to examine the boundary and determine whether it is, indeed, in the right location.
And if it isn't?
"I don't know if the boundary will shift or not,'' said Indiana 52nd District state Rep. Dave Yarde (R-Garrett). "Will there be a lot of Indiana people on the boundary suddenly living in Michigan, and vice versa? We won't know until the boundary is drawn.''
Yarde said "challenges'' to the current boundary line prompted the bill, which he supported. Although Indiana could just as easily lose territory as gain it, the boundary is worth looking into simply because it's been so long since anyone did.
"When they did it in 1827, they used wooden stakes. Many aren't there anymore. ... They can't account for a lot of them,'' he said.
A check with some residents on either side of State Line Road separating Niles Township and Clay Township indicated most are content with their current state. Some Michiganders on the north side, like Lyle Pierce, 89, were blunt when asked how they'd feel if the commission were to determine they're actually Hoosiers.
"I wouldn't like that,'' the Bendix retiree said. "If I'd have wanted that, I would have started that way in the beginning.''
On the south side of the road, Dan Polizotto, the father of Nick Polizzotto, the South Bend police officer who died answering a call at the Wooden Indian Motel two years ago, was just as adamant he wants no part of Michigan.
"No, not Michigan. I've lived in Indiana my whole life,'' the retired school teacher said. "I don't want to live in Michigan.''
Asked whether their tax bills would be less if they shifted into a different state, neither Pierce nor Polizzotto knew. Both, however, said they didn't want to risk finding out.
On the Michigan side of the road, Mary Skinner said her main concern would be the effect on her health insurance. As a retired Niles school teacher, her insurance is Michigan-based as are her physicians, so residency in Indiana could create major problems, she said.
Her husband, Osceola, a member of the Niles City Council before he moved to Niles Township nearly 20 years ago, said he likes where he is largely because of his dislike for Indiana's government. Asked for an example, he pointed to Roseland's problems when David and Dorothy Snyder served on the town board.
"That existed because there's no recall process in Indiana,'' he said, referring to Michigan's recall law that gives residents the right to oust elected officials.
Asked whether he's better off with Michigan's taxes, Skinner answered emphatically.
"Oh, yes, definitely,'' he said.
Across the road, in Indiana, Cindy Miller agreed her taxes would be her primary worry should she be shifted into Michigan.
"Plus I work in St. Joseph County, too, so that would be a concern,'' she said.
For the record, Indiana's state income tax rate is 3.4 percent, compared to Michigan's 4.35 percent, so Miller is better off staying put. As far as retracing the boundary, she said she doesn't have a problem with it.
Then she had a second thought.
"As long as they don't do something totally ridiculous, like drawing a line where part of my property is in Michigan and part in Indiana,'' she said. "That would be a nightmare.''
It's not just the Indiana General Assembly that wants to take another look at the 1827 border separating Indiana and Michigan. Lawmakers in Lansing are considering the possibility as well.
A bill before the Michigan Legislature would allow that state to appoint members to a commission that will retrace the boundary. With that in mind, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted to recommend to Gov. Jennifer Granholm that county Surveyor John Kamer serve on the panel.
Kamer would be one of 10 people on the panel, with five from each state. Also representing Michigan would be surveyors from each of four other border counties: Cass, St. Joseph (Mich.), Branch and Hillsdale.
It's not clear when the boundary would be retraced but the Indiana law creating the commission won't expire until July 2015.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: firstname.lastname@example.org