The close of the business day on Thursday marked an end to the 90-day period of remonstration against the decision by Bloomington’s city council in late September 2021 to annex seven separate territories into the city.
Remonstration means signing an official petition in opposition to annexation. On Thursday, the Monroe County auditor’s office had fresh signature numbers to report, as of Wednesday.
Based on those numbers, property owners in six of seven areas have a decent chance of blocking Bloomington’s annexation effort outright. In those six areas, more than 65 percent of property owners have submitted signatures. That’s the key threshold.
Here’s the breakdown: Area 1-A (73.83%); Area 1-B( 56.90%); Area 1-C (87.62%); Area 2 (80.44%); Area 3 (75.25%); Area 4 (71.74%); and Area 5 (68.13%)
The numbers reported on Thursday do not reflect the county auditor’s final determination. Any number of reasons could still cause the auditor, on further review, to conclude that a signature is not valid. Among the reasons: The signature a duplicate.
The auditor could also conclude that a remonstrance waiver attached to a property in connection with sewer service is valid, which would eliminate the signature from the count.
About the timeline for final counts, Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith told The B Square: “We know it won’t be any sooner than the third week of January.” That depends in part on how long some final back-and-forth takes between the auditor’s office and Bloomington’s city attorney.
But Smith said she would love for the signature validation process for all the areas to be wrapped up by the end of January. If not, she would like it to be done by mid-February.
Asked about the nuts and bolts of timing estimates, city attorney Mike Rouker told The B Square there are some deadlines involved with a signature that is turned in, including those submitted on Thursday. The county has five days to send the signature to the city and the city has 15 days to send to the county any relevant waiver that is connected with the property.
All the various deadlines point to sometime towards the end of February as probably a reasonable time to think the whole process will be wrapped up, Rouker said.
Smith told The B Square that over the 90-day remonstrance period, her office had developed a good working relationship with Rouker and assistant city attorney Larry Allen.
Smith also said she would release her final remonstrance signature totals for a given annexation area, as soon as the analysis for that area is done. That is, she will not hold back the numbers in order to release them all at the same time.
The preliminary signature numbers reported on Thursday through the previous day, made for a celebratory mood in the courthouse rotunda on Thursday afternoon.
Remonstrance organizer Margaret Clements, who also serves on Monroe County’s plan commission, was among those who addressed a couple dozen volunteers who had gathered at the courthouse on Thursday. “We will find out over the next few weeks from the auditor—she will give us the official numbers after the remonstration petitions are contested by the city. But I’m confident that we have the cushion that will still make the 65 percent stand.”
Even in Area 1B, which is the area where fewer than 65 percent of landowners had submitted signatures by Wednesday, still more than 50 percent of property owners submitted a signature. If that 50-percent figure holds up after the final review and tally is done, it means that a judge would have to review Bloomington’s annexation attempt for Area 1B.
And late Thursday afternoon, the county’s chief deputy auditor Chris Muench was sitting at a table in the courthouse rotunda, holding a stack of remonstrance papers a few inches thick. They were all remonstration signatures for Area 1B that had been turned in that day. The additional signatures could push the number past the 65-percent needed to automatically stop annexation of Area 1B.
The looming point of contention between the city and the county are annexation waivers that are attached to some of the properties. Some property owners in the past signed waivers of their right to remonstrate against annexation in exchange for permission to connect to the city’s sewer service. Those waivers are attached to the property, even after the real estate is sold.
According to Smith, the waiver validation is the last step in the validation process. Smith said she has checked through about half of the waivers that the city of Bloomington has submitted to the county in connection with remonstrance signatures so far.
Smith has analyzed many of the waivers as not valid, because they’re more than 15 years old. Waivers that old were invalidated by a law passed by the state legislature in 2019, but Bloomington considers them to be valid. That’s due in part to the fact that the current annexation process started in 2017, before the 2019 law was passed.
The annexation process has stretched out for more than four years, because the state legislature passed a 2017 law that suspended Bloomington’s annexation effort. The 2017 law was found to be unconstitutional in a 3–2 decision handed down in late 2020 by the Indiana Supreme Court.
In any case, for most of the annexation areas, the number of signatures reported on Thursday could go down by a few. And if achieving the 65-percent threshold depends on a determination that some waivers are older than 15 years, Bloomington is still expected to challenge the question of waivers in court—if it would make a difference in achieving the threshold.
County commissioner Penny Githens addressed the gathering at the courthouse rotunda by speaking against a court challenge. Githens urged the city to “accept the results” of the remonstrance efforts and not to engage in protracted litigation.
Githens alluded to the events of Jan. 6 exactly a year ago: “Today, as we pass the one-year anniversary of the insurrection in the nation’s capitol—and at a time when there are many, many issues that divide us—I wish the city of Bloomington had approached annexation the way past annexations locally occurred.”
Githens elaborated: “That was by working with residents one area at a time. Now that the annexation process has ended. I urge city officials to accept the results and not drag yourself into a costly and lengthy court battle.”
Several volunteers who spoke during Thursday’s courthouse rotunda event looked ahead to building on the connections they had made with neighbors they did not know before the remonstration effort. Area 5 resident Mark Furnish said, “Now that we do know our neighbors, let’s stay in contact, OK?”
Furnish continued, “I’m ashamed that there are people two, three doors down, I had no idea who they were.” He added, “I’ve only been in this area for five years, but my goodness, within five years, you oughta know who lives two doors down.”
Furnish said he was concerned about the future of the country: “I am nervous at all I see in this country—but if it’s gonna be made whole, it’s going have to start small with people knowing each other, and caring about each other, taking care of each other, at the lowest levels.” He concluded, “And one way to do it is to get to know each other.”
Elected officials who attended Thursday’s courthouse rotunda gathering were also looking to build on the grassroots connections they had made during the remonstrance effort. The county commissioners had taken a formal position against the city’s annexations.
President of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas invited Thursday’s crowd to participate in the ongoing effort the county is making to create its new county development ordinance (CDO) for planning and zoning.
Thomas said, “I have learned a great deal about what residents in our county want in the future. They don’t want the county to look like the city.” She added, “We have an established principle in our comprehensive plan: Keep urban urban and rural rural. I hope that you will all stay informed and engaged as we move through this process of crafting the county development ordinance.”
Thomas indicated that the volunteers assembled in the courthouse rotunda on Thursday could conclude something from their experience working on annexation remonstrance: “You know now: Your voice matters. You make a difference.”
Table: Tentative raw, non-final remonstrance numbers
|Area||Unique Owners||Waivers||Sigs||Raw %|
Photos: Remonstration conclusion: Jan. 6, 2022