Late Wednesday afternoon, Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith released her final certified results of the remonstrance petitions for seven separate annexation efforts by the city of Bloomington.
More than 65 percent of property owners signed remonstrance petitions in the following territories: Area 1C (71.43 percent); Area 2 (71.98 percent); Area 3 (66.67 percent); Area 4 (70.79 percent); and Area 5 (66.67 percent).
Bloomington’s annexation ordinances for those five areas, enacted by the city council in the third week of September 2021, are automatically stopped under the auditor’s certified results.
But the city of Bloomington will almost certainly challenge the results, because those percentages depend on discounting some of the remonstrance waivers attached to the properties.
A remonstrance waiver is a signed document that gives up the right of a property owner to remonstrate against annexation, in exchange for the ability to hook up to the city’s sewer system.
The state legislature passed a law in 2019 that voids any remonstration waiver signed before July 1, 2003. The county auditor followed that law in her analysis of valid remonstrance signatures. Bloomington contends that the 2019 is itself not valid, or at least that it should not apply to the current process, because the city’s annexation effort began in 2017.
According to the auditor’s results released on Wednesday, the remonstrance efforts in the two other areas still achieved a lower statutory threshold, of 50 percent. The 50-percent threshold means that the city’s annexations will have to be reviewed by a court.
In Area 1A, 60.94 percent of property owners signed a remonstrance petition. In Area 1B, 57.50 percent of property owners signed a remonstrance petition.
Not included in the auditor’s Wednesday release of certified results are calculations based on the assessed value of property owned by people who signed a remonstrance petition. Under Indiana’s annexation law, that’s another way to achieve an adequate number of signatures. The B Square has sent an emailed question to the auditor on that issue.
In addition to challenging the 2019 law that invalidated the waivers, Bloomington will likely be scrutinizing every remonstrance signature to check that it meets all the requirements.
A city news release from the first half of February quoted Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, saying, “Though early, speculative reports have offered certain remonstrance numbers, the careful review and tallying of remonstrance signatures is a long and detailed process under state law.”
Bloomington’s news release alluded to the potential for litigation like this: “Once [the county auditor’s final tally] is completed, it will be appropriate to consider whether the numbers need further reconciling or review, either administratively or through any court proceedings.”
Now that the county auditor has released her final tally, it appears that court proceedings will be necessary in order for Bloomington to realize its annexation goals.
Based on the figures released on Wednesday, none of the annexation areas achieved enough signatures to stop annexation outright, without relying on the invalidation of any waivers.
But three areas—the so-called “islands” of Area 3, Area 4, and Area 5—achieved signatures from more than 50 percent of property owners where no waiver was involved. That means even if a court were to find in Bloomington’s favor on the question of waivers, the “islands” would still meet the threshold for a court to review the merits of the annexation.
Area 4 “island” resident Susan Brackney organized the remonstrance effort for that territory. Reached by the B Square, Brackney said, “It’s not over, yet. I foresee this taking a long time.”