So-called ‘islands’ making strong effort against Bloomington annexations, as Jan. 6 deadline looms

After Bloomington’s city council voted in late September to annex seven separate territories into the city, and the required newspaper notification was published, that started a 90-day period for property owners to remonstrate.

Remonstration means signing an official petition in opposition to annexation.

The 90-day window for submitting a signed remonstrance petition to the county auditor closes on Jan. 6.

With just a month left in the remonstrance period, the possible outcome for remonstration efforts in some of the annexation areas is starting to come into better focus.

Organizers of efforts to collect signatures in the three so-called ‘island’ annexation areas submitted a big pile of signatures to the county auditor this past week.

Signatures from other areas have also been coming in. Across all annexation areas a total of around 1,700 remonstrance signatures have been submitted so far, according to the county auditor’s office.

Each annexation area has its own remonstrance process. Remonstration could succeed in one area, stopping the annexation of that single area, but fail in a different area, allowing the annexation of the different area.

The picture is not yet clear for any of the annexation areas. And it will probably stay blurry until after the Jan. 6 deadline is past.

In this map of the the three ‘island’ annexation areas, the darker shades of color indicate parcels with remonstrance waivers attached to them regardless of date when those waivers were signed.

Part of the reason for the fuzzy picture is the way the state law on annexation defines “enough” signatures for a successful remonstrance. As one example, the percentage required is defined not by parcel, but by owner.

Another reason the picture is not clear is that the city of Bloomington will probably file  lawsuits to throw out some of the signatures, based on waivers of remonstration attached to a parcel.

The status of some of the waivers is disputed, because the state legislature passed a law in 2019 that renders not valid all the waivers that were signed before 2003.  The city of Bloomington is proceeding as if the older waivers are valid.

But based on the raw number of signatures submitted this week for each of the three ‘island’ areas, success of some sort for those individual remonstration efforts could be within reach by Jan. 6.

Area 4, the middle ‘island’, is nestled between 3rd Street and Bloomfield Road, west of Lanemark Avenue.

On Thursday, Susan Brackney, a resident and property owner of Area 4, turned in 64 signatures that she had collected from her neighbors. She told The B Square she thinks that works out to 69 percent of property owners.

Brackney’s math squares up with the number of unique owners listed out in the city’s information on parcels in annexation areas, which is 92 [64/92 = 0.6956].

If all of Brackney’s collected signatures are confirmed, and 92 is the correct denominator, that would exceed the 65-percent threshold in the state statute, which would put an automatic end to Bloomington’s annexation effort in Area 4.

Brackney told The B Square that among the 64 signatures, she is not counting any that she thinks should legitimately be thrown out.

Brackney also does not consider her work on remonstrance to be over. Responding to a question from The B Square, Brackney said she has some specific ideas of how she wants to spend her spare time in the future—from finishing book proposals to making her own recycled paper from scratch. But she does not think she’ll have that kind of spare time just yet.

“What am I gonna do in my spare time? I don’t think it’s over, yet!” Brackney said.

Brackney is hanging on to one of her blank signature sheets, in case more Area 4 property owners want to sign a remonstrance petition. “I still have some stragglers. Every one of them could be crucial,” Brackney said. She continued, “They all matter to me. I want them all to have been heard.” Brackney added, “If they want to remonstrate, I want them to have been able to do so.”

Area 5 is a pistol-shaped territory south of Bloomfield Road.

The city of Bloomington’s list of properties in annexation Area 5 shows 91 unique owners.

On Wednesday last week, Area 5 resident and property owner Mark Furnish submitted 60 remonstrance signatures. Furnish told The B Square he thinks there are just 75 properties that come into play for calculating remonstrance percentages for Area 5.

Owners of non-profit entities don’t count in the calculation for remonstrance signatures

So Furnish thinks Area 5 now has 60 out of 75 possible signatures, which would be 80 percent—15 points better than the 65-percent statutory threshold.

About the annexation remonstrance effort that he’s helped push in Area 5, Furnish said, “If there’s anything good that’s come out of this, it’s some of us have actually started to talk to each other!”

Furnish continued, “We’ve been where we live for five years. And we’ve known a total of four people, and are just right next to us. And that’s about it. But this process has forced me to get out and it’s opened my eyes about a lot of things.”

Area 3 is a Pacman-shape territory sitting between the SR 45/46 bypass and 3rd Street.

Submitting signatures from Area 3 to the county auditor on Friday last week were Darlene Stewart, Lisa Fitzgerald, and Jeanice Chastain. The three submitted a combined total of 63 signatures. The city of Bloomington lists 101 unique owners of property in Area 3.

If it turns out that by Jan. 6 the number of signatures from Area 3 is under 65 percent, but above 50 percent, that could be counted as some kind of success for the remonstration effort. Under the state statute on annexation, a percentage between 50 and 65 leads to a review of the proposed annexation by a judge. The city of Bloomington would have to argue its case for annexation to the court.

Stewart told The B Square not every person she asked to sign a remonstrance petition did so on the first try. But some nos turned into yeses, she said. One way she convinced some people to sign was to point to the increase in taxes that they’d be paying.

The 50-percent and 65-percent thresholds for property owner signatures is just one of the ways the state statute defines “enough” signatures for a successful remonstrance. Another way the statute defines the threshold is in terms of the assessed value of property.

If the owners of land totaling at least 80 percent of the assessed valuation of the land in the annexation area sign a remonstrance petition, that automatically ends Bloomington’s annexation effort in the area.

Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith told The B Square that when she evaluates the petition signatures for each area, she will first check the assessed valuation criterion, and then the percentage of owners. That’s because the assessed valuation criterion is a simpler standard to apply, she said.

But the assessed valuation standard will require some input from state-level officials, Smith said. That’s because Bloomington’s annexation process started in 2017, and was interrupted by a court case, which the Indiana Supreme Court ultimately decided in Bloomington’s favor.  Several parcels in the annexation areas have seen significant improvements, and increased assessed values since 2017, Smith said.

The remonstrance equation could look different depending on the use of a property’s 2017 valuation or 2021 valuation, Smith said. She’ll wait for guidance from the state on which year’s valuation to use.

In the final month before the Jan. 6 deadline, the effort to collect more remonstrance signatures will continue.

According to Van Buren Township trustee Rita Barrow, petition signature sheets will be available to sign at the Monroe County fairgrounds from Dec. 13 to Dec 15 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Petition sheets will also be available to sign at the Monroe County fairgrounds on Dec. 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Those who want to submit their remonstrance signature directly to the county auditor’s office can do that from now through Jan. 6 during regular building hours, daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the north end of the courthouse lobby.