At its regular meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council restarted the process, which had been suspended in 2017 by action of the state legislature, to annex eight separate areas into the city.
The re-start comes after Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled in a 3–2 split decision late last year that the state legislature’s action was unconstitutional.
The eight different areas that are being considered for annexation would add 9,255 acres to Bloomington’s land area and an estimated 14,377 people to the city’s population.
The city council’s annexation-related action on Wednesday involved one resolution for each of the eight areas to adopt its new fiscal plan, and one ordinance on the annexation itself. The ordinances were first introduced in 2017.
That meant on Wednesday, the ordinances got technical amendments to revise several mentions of dates. But no votes were taken on the ordinances as amended. Those votes are planned for September.
One wobble in the restarted process was the 6–3 outcome of the vote on the adoption of the fiscal plan for Area 7. All the other votes on Wednesday were unanimous.
Area 7 is labeled in the annexation materials as the “North Bloomington Annexation Area.” The area has been described as having more cows and chickens than people. Its estimated 115 people, spread over 896 acres, gives it a population density of 0.12 people per acre.
Dissenting on the Area 7 fiscal plan vote were Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Dave Rollo, and Susan Sandberg. Piedmont-Smith said, “I think it’s too rural.”
But it’s the final votes on the ordinances that will have an impact on whether areas are annexed. Those votes are currently scheduled for mid-September.
Councilmember Matt Flaherty said, “I don’t take my vote on on either resolutions or amendments to ordinances tonight to mean that I am in support of a particular area for annexation.” He added, “I think we’ll continue to consider kind of all aspects of this as we move forward. This is just a step in the process.”
The date for the public hearing on the ordinances is currently set for Aug. 4.
But during public commentary at the meeting, president of Monroe County’s board of commissioners Julie Thomas urged that more than one day be set aside for the public hearing.
Observing that the number of parcels to be annexed is more than 6,000, Thomas asked, “What if half of those people want to speak at your public hearing?”
Another wobble came when Piedmont-Smith sized up part of the presentation from the consultant from Reedy Financial Group as “a bit disingenuous.”
It involved the impact on Monroe County’s property tax revenue projected out four years, based on a 4.2-percent annual growth rate. Piedmont-Smith said, “It looks very rosy. So, Hey, the net impact is they’re getting $3.7 million. But isn’t that just, it’s $3.7 million, where it could have been 3.7 plus 1.8, right.” She concluded, “I mean, it just the way this is presented seems a bit disingenuous.”
Piedmont-Smith was pointing out that the table showed a net positive for the county government, after the impact of property tax caps and other allocation adjustments, but that is less than the gain that would be projected without annexation.
Another issue on which the administration was pressed by councilmembers came when Sue Sgambelluri asked about the proposed effective date of the annexation, which is Jan. 1, 2024—two months after city elections for city council, mayor and clerk.
It means that after their property is annexed, a resident would have to wait nearly four years to participate in a city election that potentially involves the councilmembers who voted to annex their land into the city.
Sgambelluri asked Bloomington’s corporation counsel Philippa Guthrie for confirmation of the impact on participation in city elections that is connected to the proposed effective dates in the ordinances: “If we vote to annex an area, they would not be able to vote until after January 1, 2024. Correct?”
Guthrie’s response: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Guthrie continued, “We considered 2023. But we wanted to add as much time as possible under the statute for a transition period—for both the city and the residents who may ultimately be annexed.” Guthrie said, “We didn’t feel it was advisable to shorten that transition period.”
In connection with the election issue, councilmember Steve Volan noted that the map for the six council districts that has to be drawn next year, would work just for the 2023 elections—if the annexation is not effective until 2024. After that, a new district map would need to be drawn to include the annexed areas.
Steve Unger from the Bose McKinney & Evans law firm, the city’s outside counsel for the redistricting process, responded to Volan’s point. Unger said the redistricting that’s done in 2022, is not required to be done before annexation is complete. That means the city council can factor in the annexations when the district boundaries are drawn, Unger said.
A possible point of contention is the administration’s reference in its presentational material of property tax “fire rate” for Bloomington. The Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) is funded through a dedicated property tax on property owners outside the city, but in the district, which can be described as a fire rate.
Bloomington does not have a dedicated property tax for fire protection. But under a 2019 state statute, the administration must calculate a kind of “fire rate”—which has to be carved out from the property tax assessed by the city, in any annexed area that is served by the fire protection district.
The state legislature passed the 2019 law while Bloomington’s annexation lawsuit was being litigated. It has the effect of leaving an annexed area as a part of a fire protection district, even after annexation. The fire protection district has to continue to provide fire protection services to the annexed area. [IC-36-4-3-7]
Bloomington puts the city’s “fire rate” at $0.1250. Compared to MFPD’s 2021 rate of $0.3890, the city’s calculated rate is $0.2640 less.
Responding to a question from The Square Beacon, city attorney Mike Rouker laid out how the city arrives at the $0.1250 figure:
We started by taking the 2021 City Fire Department budget of $13.1 million. Then we removed the portions of the budget funded from sources other than our property tax levy (Fire Contract with IU – $1.75 million; Interdepartmental Services Agreement with CBU – $447,000; and Fire’s share of the PSLIT – approximately $6,000,000). That left us with slightly less than $5,000,000 of the City’s property tax levy that would be required for municipal fire service. If you divide that by the applicable net assessed value of approximately $4,000,000,000 you arrive at the city’s estimated fire rate of 0.125.
For the period of the projected impact, it’s previously been reported that the MFPD’s rate is expected to decrease. According to MFPD chief Dustin Dillard, as townships that currently contract with the district become members the district, MFPD’s rate is projected to decrease by 2022 to $0.2914 and the following year to $0.2877.
Dillard told The Square Beacon on Thursday, that he’s hopeful the rate will drop to $0.2500 by 2025, but that will depend on various factors.
The preservation of the fire district levy and service area was a factor in recent discussions that have led to several townships to join the Monroe Fire Protection District.
As described in the city’s FAQ on annexation, the new law prohibits cities like Bloomington from providing fire services to annexed areas that are part of a fire district.
On Wednesday, Volan questioned whether the 2019 law should apply, given that Indiana’s Supreme Court had ruled that the legislature’s 2017 action, to suspend Bloomington’s in-progress annexation, had been found to be unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, the city council took a total of 32 roll call votes on the resolutions and ordinances related to annexation. One of the roll call votes taken for each piece of legislation was to read it aloud by title and synopsis—because votes taken during an electronic meeting are legally required to be taken by roll call.
Bloomington’s city council does not, by custom, take advantage of the common non-voting practice to settle uncontroversial, routine matters, which is described in Robert’s Rules as “unanimous consent.”
Based on discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, no additional public outreach in the form of open houses or meetings, along the lines that was done in 2017, is planned by the city of Bloomington.
On Wednesday, members of the administration indicated a willingness to talk to people and correspond with them one-on-one.
City attorney Mike Rouker said on Wednesday, “I find those one-on-one phone conversations I have, or those email chains that I have with individuals, to be far more productive and useful.”
Rouker added, “It gets them precisely the information they want. So I have found that to be a really useful way to do it, as opposed to a giant group.”
Bloomington has set up a webpage dedicated to the topic of annexation.