Bloomington’s plans to annex certain areas around the city could be halted as early as February 2022. Many residents oppose annexation due to the increase in local taxes and extension of unwanted city services like water, sewage and others.
Margaret Clements, co-president of County Residents Against Annexation, said since the resumption of city annexation efforts in June 2021, the CRAA has worked to express their opposition to these efforts.
“We formed a committee and we reached out into all of the annexation areas and spoke to thousands of residents,” Clements said. “We gathered their signatures on petitions so that we could give city council an idea before they approved the involuntary annexation ordinance.”
Previously: Bloomington City Council annexes remaining seven areas, omitting area 7
Mayor John Hamilton announced in April 2017 the city will once again begin the process of annexing additional areas into city limits. This process was then halted by the state legislature in a process referred to as conference committee, City Attorney Mike Rouker said.
Rouker said through this process, Indiana legislators can convene to write and insert new amendments into legislation to be passed later. These legislators are able to make changes at their own discretion, Rouker said.
“When you do it that way you don’t have to tell anybody about it,” Rouker said. “You just do it in the darkest night and then just plop it down at the last moment.”
The city was able to fight this restriction on the grounds the legislation unlawfully and unconstitutionally singled out Bloomington with its restrictions. The legal battle ensued from April 2017 until December 2020, during which Bloomington’s annexation efforts were put on hold, Rouker said.
“Everybody acknowledged that, from the beginning, this was just a ban on Bloomington doing annexations,” Rouker said.
Since then, Bloomington City Council has passed legislation approving the annexation of each individual area outlined in the annexation proposal. In early October, the 90-day remonstrance period began.
Remonstrance is the legal process where property owners may formally object to the proposed annexation. However, many residents own properties which have remonstrance waivers.
Roughly 2,000 properties within these annexation areas have remonstrance waivers according to a BSquare Bulletin article. Properties with waivers are not eligible to contest or oppose the annexation.
A 2019 law may make many of these waivers void, determining those which have already expired. Monroe County Auditor Catherine Smith, who determines who is eligible to vote for or against annexation, has said she plans to follow the 2019 law.
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Rouker said if 65% or more of eligible property owners in a proposed annexation area sign remonstrance petitions, the annexation ordinances and efforts for that area are dropped immediately. If 51 to 65% successfully petition, then the issue is taken to court for litigation. If under 51% are filed, then the remonstrance effort has failed, Rouker said.
Clements believes for the areas labeled 3, 4 and 5 proposed for annexation, the CRAA have more than enough petitions to successfully oppose and halt annexation.
“If we count the people who have what we think could be valid remonstration waivers, we’re above 85%, 90%.” Clements said. “So the opposition to annexation is overwhelming.”
The remonstrance period ends Jan. 6, 2022, after which Auditor Smith will refuse any additional remonstration petitions. Subsequently, she will submit the remonstration petitions to the city within five days after receiving them.
The city will then have 15 days to review these petitions, make any arguments against the opposition and submit this back to the county auditor. The auditor then has an additional 15 days to review these items and make a decision, totalling a 35-day period for verification.
Clements said she is confident this opposition will be successful and encourages any residents who haven’t already filed remonstrance petitions to do so before the deadline, Jan. 6. Clements said she’s disappointed in our city officials’ lack of consideration of residents’ opinions on annexation.
“I mean this actually is an exercise and bureaucracy gone wrong,” Clements said. “The underlying statement is people don't want it.”