Bloomington annexation remonstrance final raw tally: Automatic stop in play for six of seven areas, court review now possible for one

When the Jan. 6 deadline passed for submitting remonstrance petitions against Bloomington’s annexation ordinances, the Monroe County auditor’s office was able to provide only a preliminary raw tally of signatures.

That’s because several signatures were submitted on the final day.

Based on the now final but still raw tally, every area but one would have enough signatures to meet the 65-percent threshold that automatically blocks Bloomington’s annexation attempt.

That’s the same basic picture that was already known on the final day of remonstrance.

What’s different is the status of Area 1B, which by the auditor’s count at the time had not yet achieved even a lower threshold of 50-percent. That’s a benchmark that doesn’t stop the annexation but does ensure that a judge reviews a city’s annexation ordinance.

Adding in the final day’s count has bumped the total for Area 1B past the 50-percent threshold.

But it’s still short of the 65-percent mark. The area has 2,102 unique owners, of which 1,342 signed a remonstrance petition. That’s 63.8 percent. The 65-percent threshold would have required signatures from 25 more property owners.

Each separate annexation area is also considered separately for the purpose of calculating remonstrance percentages.

The tally provided by the auditor’s office on Friday is final only in the sense that there are no additional signatures to be counted. The numbers could still go down, as the county auditor gives the pile of papers a final review—to eliminate duplicates and to eliminate signatures for a property that has a valid waiver of remonstrance.

The auditor’s final count for some areas, after all review has been completed, could come as soon as sometime next week. But that was an estimate from two weeks ago that Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith characterized as a “not before” timeframe.

The auditor’s final count might not be the one that is final at the end of all the expected litigation.

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. On Jan. 6, Smith said she had checked through about half of the waivers that the city of Bloomington has submitted to the county in connection with remonstrance signatures.

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.

A bill that has been introduced during this year’s session of the state legislature would turn the tables on municipalities that want to annex territory in the future.

Under SB 073, after a city council passes an annexation ordinance, the onus would then be on the city to collect signatures from at least 51 percent of property owners, in order to proceed with the annexation. The concept of remonstration would essentially be eliminated from the involuntary annexation process.

SB 073 was referred to the senate committee on local government. In committee, it got a 6–3 vote in support of passage by the full senate.

Is SB 073 likely to be approved by the full senate and if so, what are its prospects in the house?

Insight into those questions could be provided by some of the area’s state legislators, who will be joining a video-conference call hosted by the League of Women Voters  next week on Jan. 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Table: Raw tallies from Monroe County Auditor’s Office (Jan. 14, 2022)

Area Parcels Unique Owners Signatures Submitted Pct
1-A 1,828 1,479 1,120 75.73%
1-B 2,407 2,102 1,342 63.84%
1-C 107 105 94 89.52%
2 1,692 1,329 1,120 84.27%
3 130 101 76 75.25%
4 107 92 66 71.74%
5 129 91 64 70.33%