Mayor John Hamilton met a few of his potential new constituents last weekend, but the future relationship has gotten off to a rocky start.
Hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon at the auditorium of the Monroe County fairgrounds to ask officials from the City of Bloomington, Monroe County and Van Buren township questions about potentially becoming official city residents through an annexation project proposed by Hamilton on Feb. 3.
The annexation proposal was for the addition of seven areas, totaling 10,000 acres and 15,000 people, in and around the city of Bloomington last month. These seven areas, which are currently unincorporated, would be official parts of the city. City services do not currently extend to these areas. Bloomington is the closest municipality to the people in the proposed annexation areas.
Hamilton said at his public proposal Feb. 3 the annexation “will allow all those households and businesses in the community to be a part of the same future of Bloomington.” If the annexation is approved, it would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2020.
The crowd heckled and shouted over officials attempting to answer questions at the hour-and-a-half-long forum regarding tax increases, public safety, city transit and sewer systems. People took turns asking questions and were often critical of the process.
Diana Igo, a resident in an annexation area, addressed Hamilton in her statement by his first name as she called him a liar and not transparent for proposing annexation without consulting county and township officials.
“I don’t care if you were running for dog catcher, I will never vote for you, John,” Igo said, followed by cheers and applause.
Most concerns regarded tax increases for services, such as private trash services. People in annexation areas already have township fire departments and county law enforcement.
Van Buren township is located on the western edge of Bloomington. One woman who spoke up at the meeting made a case as to why people in the area chose not to live in the city.
“They rent here on the west side, and they shop in our shops, and they drive on our roads and go to our schools because they can’t afford to live in the city of Bloomington,” she said.
Hamilton, Monroe County council member Geoff McKim, Van Buren township trustee Rita Barrow and Monroe County commissioner Julie Thomas took turns answering public comment.
Hamilton said in an interview after the meeting he expected this kind of feedback from residents in the annexed areas but was thankful so many people came to ask questions.
“It’s not surprising that people who are right next to a city don’t want to be annexed into a city and pay the taxes associated with the city,” Hamilton said after the meeting.
Given that the Bloomington city council has to approve annexation, city council president Susan Sandberg said after the meeting that it was a useful and informative meeting for council members. They want to hear constituent concerns before they make their decisions, she said.
“What makes sense will go forward and what doesn’t will not,” she said.
Hamilton told the crowd the city has annexed “a few hundred times” in its 199-year history, but no annexations have taken place in the last 15 years. Hamilton said he was confident that despite the emotional build up people have about annexation, the city will still grow.
“We’ve been doing it for 200 years, and we’re going to keep doing it,” Hamilton said. “We’ve annexed our history, and we can do this again.”