All three Monroe County commissioners and the County Residents Against Annexation, an anti-annexation group in Monroe County, met at the Monroe County Courthouse on Jan. 6 to mark the end of the 90-day remonstrance period and to offer preliminary remonstration petition estimates.
Remonstrance is the legal process where property owners can formally object to a proposed annexation. These residents must sign a remonstrance petition within the 90-day period allotted for their vote to count. Annexation is the process by which a city extends its boundaries to include nearby areas previously not inside city limits.
The CRAA is a group led by President Margaret Clements. The group spreads awareness of annexation opposition opportunities and helps concerned property owners file remonstrance petitions.
In order for a city’s annexation efforts to be automatically defeated, at least 65% of property owners within an area marked for annexation must file remonstrance petitions within the allotted remonstration period, City Attorney Mike Rouker said in a Dec. 2021 interview.
If between 51-65% of property owners in an annexation area file petitions, then the issue can be taken to court in a remonstrance trial, Rouker said. An attorney representing the residents could then litigate their case against the city.
“Both sides can go to court and there are certain standards that the municipality has to be able to prove to say these areas are appropriate for annexation.” Rouker said.
Clements said most areas intended for annexation have more than enough remonstrance petitions to meet the 65% minimum and automatically halt the annexation of each respective area. Some areas had more than 80% of the petitions required, she said.
“In eight out of nine of the originally proposed annexation areas we are confident that the annexation will be voided or has already been cancelled due to overwhelming public opposition,” Clements said.
Clements and other members of the CRAA believe the ninth area proposed for annexation may have enough petitions to be contested in court. She said the CRAA recorded 1,196 petitions for the area, which is enough to meet the threshold necessary for contestation.
Residents and County Commissioners both voiced their displeasure with the City’s efforts in the face of community opposition. County Commissioner Penny Githens voiced her support for annexation only when it’s done voluntarily.
Indiana is one of a few states which still allow for involuntary annexation, which is an annexation process initiated by the municipality rather than the residents and often against the wishes of many of the property owners.
“As we have seen today, the current local annexation process has been arduous and upsetting,” Githens said.
Githens announced her candidacy for Indiana House District 62 in Oct. 2021. She said Bloomington should return to the voluntary annexation process it had followed in the past and urged city officials to accept the results of the remonstration count.
“Voluntary annexation reduces contentiousness, keeps the process out of the courts and allows those being annexed to weigh the cost of higher taxes against the services they would receive,” Githens said.
County Auditor Catherine Smith is tasked with counting the votes of Monroe County residents who wish to oppose annexation. Smith, who lives in an area the city wants to annex, is publicly against the city's efforts.
“I have the dual role of being a citizen who doesn't want my house annexed and the county auditor who has to count all these votes,” Smith said.
She said residents should be patient while county officials certify the votes.
“This is an example of government workers working their hearts out for the will of the people.” Smith said. “I have seen nothing but the strongest sense of community than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The county now enters a 35-day span for the petitions to be verified. The official results will be announced soon after.