Appearing in the same room at the same time on Tuesday were all three Bloomington mayoral candidates in the May 2 primary race for the Democratic Party’s nomination: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg, and Kerry Thomson
The room was Aver’s Public House on South College Mall Road. The occasion was a regular meeting of the Monroe County Democrats’ Club. Each candidate delivered a stump speech. After that, they fielded a few questions as a group.
Also given time to speak was the sole candidate for city clerk, incumbent Nicole Bolden, as well as the two candidates for the District 2 city council seat, Kate Rosenbarger and Sue Sgambelluri, who both currently serve on the city council. The outcome of the redistricting process put the two in the same district.
This report from the Feb. 21 event is confined to the remarks and the Q&A for the mayoral candidates.
The stump speeches from mayoral candidates offered no real surprises, and tracked with the remarks given by each candidate at their respective campaign launch parties.
Questions from attendees included a range of topics. Answers to two of them are reported out in detail below—one on transportation options and another on growth.
The report below is organized chronologically.
Susan Sandberg: Stump speech
Sandberg led off by talking about what several attendees had in common—she thanked those in attendance who were currently serving as elected officials, or had served in the past, or who are currently running for office.
That’s a group that in addition to Sandberg, included other current councilmembers: Kate Rosenbarger, Sue Sgambelluri, Ron Smith, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, and Jim Sims. Former city councilmembers Timothy Mayer and David Sabbagh also attended.
In addition to the current city clerk Nicole Bolden, former city clerk Regina Moore attended, as did current mayor John Hamilton, who is not seeking re-election. Current county commissioner Penny Githens was there, as was Vi Simpson, who previously served as a state senator and county auditor. County councilor Cheryl Munson was also there.
Jenny Stevens, one of two candidates for the District 5 city council seat was there. The other District 5 candidate is Shruti Rana.
Sandberg then talked about shared attitudes: “I know the one thing we all share in common—we love this city. And we want to keep it moving forward in a healthy and strong direction.”
Before ticking through the four planks of her platform, Sandberg gave her general take on growth: “I want a Bloomington that is better, not necessarily bigger.”
Then came the platform: affordability; public safety and public health; better collaboration with city partners and county colleagues; and essential city services.
Sandberg introduced the final point of her platform by describing herself as a “pro-labor Democrat.” She added, “We need to make sure that…we’re taking good care of our employees who keep the wheels turning, and that we are paying attention to our infrastructure, our streets, sidewalks, sanitation facilities.”
Sandberg traced her involvement in politics to the Vote Run Lead organization, and held up a T-shirt from that era. “I’ve been in the pipeline for many, many years,” she said.
She described her first run for city council for the District 2 seat against two-term incumbent, Republican Jason Banach. She lost that race after being put on the ballot by then county party chair Frank McCloskey—she had not declared herself a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary.
“When you run and you don’t win, it’s a very humbling experience,” Sandberg said. She added, “But it’s a learning experience.” Even though she lost that election, she “did keep at it” by accepting an appointment on Bloomington’s utilities service board.
Sandberg said she started paying closer attention to what other councilmembers were doing. When at-large councilmember Chris Gaal was elected as county prosecutor, that created a vacancy on the city council. In 2007 Sandberg was caucused into Gaal’s seat.
“This is my 17th year on the council—I know where things are in city hall,” Sandberg said. The line drew a chuckle from some in the audience.
Sandberg started the wind-up to her remarks by hitting some of her platform points again, saying there would be time later to talk about details. Her platform point of affordability includes not just housing affordability, but also wages, she said.
Public safety includes more than just law enforcement, Sandberg said. Collaboration is essential, Sandberg said, “in order for us to do better work, in a more communicative, more collegial, more civil and more respectful manner.”
Sandberg kicked out of her remarks with a description of her leadership style: “I am going to be a bottom-up leader not a top-down leader,” she said. She continued, “I’m used to playing in ensembles. And so that’s the way things will roll with the Sandberg administration.”
The allusion to “ensembles” was to her ukulele band, The UkeTones, which played her campaign kickoff party.
Don Griffin: Stump speech
Griffin led off his Tuesday remarks by establishing his hometown bona fides: “Fifty-two years of my life, I’ve been in Bloomington. Love it. Will always love it.”
He added, “And I’ll be here for the next 50 years.”
Next came the catchphrase that he announced at his campaign kickoff party: “Believe in Bloomington.”
Griffin elaborated on the catchphrase: “Who we need to be is who we actually are—but just better. We need to lean into who we are. By believing in Bloomington, we can boldly become Bloomington.”
Growth while preserving small-town charm was a theme that Griffin weaved through his stump speech as well as his answers to questions.
In his stump speech, he started a sentence with a general statement: “I think that we can be one of the best communities in the entire country…” then revised that to add one adjective: “…one of the best small communities in the entire country.”
Then came the elements of Griffin’s platform: sustainability; diversity and inclusion; housing; and job creation and attraction. At the core of Bloomington’s growth must be sustainability, Griffin said, as the city faces the climate crisis with policies that consider social, environmental, and economic impact and build resilience.
Griffin said Bloomington should be a leader on response to climate change, not just in the state of Indiana, but in the entire country
About diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, Griffin said, “We’re now in an era in which everyone can belong.” Griffin pointed to differences among us as something to be highlighted, from which the community can draw strength: “I think Bloomington is stuck in the era of where we don’t see our differences.”
Griffin continued, “But the new era is where we say: Look at our differences, and celebrate them.” He added, “If we do that, as Bloomingtonians, we’ll be celebrating every day of the week.”
“We want our children, no matter who they love, no matter what color they are, no matter who they serve, to be celebrated. And loved,” Griffin said.
Griffin is founder and owner of Griffin Realty. About housing, Griffin said he’s been in the business for 32 years. “I know housing,” he said.
He stressed the need to set goals and take steps to meet them. Given that only 38 percent of Bloomington residents own their own home, Griffin said his goal is to reach 50 percent home ownership, within four to six years.
To reach that 50-percent goal, Griffin said, “I know how to do it—we’ve got the people in place at city hall already ready to go.” At the same time, Griffin said, “We also have to protect our core neighborhoods.”
Griffin sees significant growth as inevitable: “Bloomington is growing, folks—the idea of us remaining a small, sleepy town is over.” Bloomington pointed to the not-yet-completed I-69 as a factor that will fuel future Bloomington growth. When I-69 is completed, Griffin said, from the center of Indianapolis, it will be easier to get to Bloomington than to Carmel.
“We can keep it quaint, it can still be beautiful, Griffin said.”
Economic and cultural growth will require figuring out ways to retain the students and graduate workers that are here, Griffin said. People who are between 23 and 33 years old don’t have a lot to do in Bloomington, Griffin said. A line about that age group that got its intended laugh from the audience: “I am calling that the lonely decade.”
“Bloomington is a wonderful place to live—if you’re retired,” Griffin said. That’s not necessarily true for 23-to-33-year-olds, he added. On the notion of so-called “Bloomerangs”—people who leave but return to Bloomington, Griffin said, “We have to ask ourselves, why do people have to leave?”
Griffin’s answer: “It’s a lack of jobs.” He added, “And honestly, it’s actually lack of play. We have to create opportunities for them to do things after work.”
Griffin pointed to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and Eskenazi Museum of Art as institutions that help make Bloomington a cultural destination. But Bloomington has not always approached the idea of creating a cultural designation in a strategic way, Griffin said. “We need to use our resources to become the arts and music and cultural destination of the Midwest,” he said.
Griffin bookended his stump speech with an allusion to his catch phrase: “I’m not talking about doing anything different than who we are—just being better at it—being the best at being Bloomington, being boldly Bloomington.”
Kerry Thomson: Stump speech
Thomson led off with a standard question: Why are you running for mayor? Thomson’s answer: “We simply need to do things differently. What we’re doing is not working.”
Key to making things work better, Thomson said, is to “bring people back to the table.” Later in her stump speech, she returned to that theme by saying, “If the table at city hall is not working, take the table out to the people—find ways to listen that are new.”
“Bloomington is an incredible city. And it deserves an incredible city government,” Thomson said. Employees as well as residents need to be looped into the mix, she said: “We have people who work hard to serve this city. And we also have residents who want to have a say in how we are envisioning our way forward.”
Thomson then turned to her own background, which includes 20 years as CEO of Habitat for Humanity. But her work for that organization stretches back longer than that, to include a total of 32 years of experience with Habitat. That matches the time that Griffin has been working in the housing sector, she said.
For the last five years, Thomson has served as director for the Center for Rural Engagement at Indiana University. A fact that drew a murmur from the crowd: CRE works with 70 different municipalities. Thomson said that CRE works to improve health, community resilience and quality of place.
In the five years since CRE was created, more than 30,000 leaders had been looped into the center’s work. “That is a lot of voices at the table,” Thomson said. She added, “It’s a lot of gathering people and asking them what they envision for their community and helping them weave together plans that actually work for their communities.”
Thomson recounted how she came to live in Bloomington. She was riding her bicycle from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and stopped over in Bloomington for about 36 hours. “By the time I cycled out of town, I told my buddy: I’m going to move back here.”
About Bloomington, Thomson said, “This is a place that calls to me.” She elaborated, “I saw people gathered on sidewalks, engaged in lively conversations. I sensed the vibrant arts and culture that we have here. Since moving to Bloomington, Thomson said she’s been able to articulate more clearly what it is about Bloomington that calls to her: “It’s a community that really beckons true belonging, true community. And that is the Bloomington that I would like to help create.”
Thomson then turned to the kind of problems she wants to solve. “We are a great city. But we have allowed problems to reach crisis level.” She named a couple of issues she’s heard people talk about during her listening sessions over the last seven months: “Why is our population of people who are unhoused… growing, when we keep putting efforts behind assisting? Why are housing prices skyrocketing?”
When it tries to address problems like that, Bloomington’s government right now “does not work in partnership,” Thomson said.
About the legislative side, Thomson said, “We have a divided city council.” About the executive side, she said, “We have heard proposals that are really plans, before they get any community input.”
What Bloomington deserves from its government is true collaboration, Thomson said. Over the course of her career, she’s worked “on the ground, to build coalitions to listen to people to work side by side with them.” She added, “And that is what I’ll continue to do as your mayor.”
Thomson listed out three priorities as mayor, based on what she’s heard during her listening sessions. The first is “how we do government.” Thomson said that means bringing people to the table to: “let them help co-create the solutions that work.”
Thomson’s second priority is “attainable” housing. “That does not mean megaplex apartments all over our city,” she said.
Thomson’s third priority is “solving the challenges…with public safety especially as it pertains to the mental health and substance use crisis that we are currently experiencing downtown.”
About Bloomington’s unhoused residents, Thomson said, “The people living in tents deserve a life of dignity. And there is no dignity right now in how we’re moving them place to place.”
Thomson said Bloomington stands at a crucial moment in time: “I would say that Bloomington is also at a crossroads of our history.” She added, “I think, and I suspect that you agree, that the next four years are going to define what Bloomington looks like for the next 40 years.”
The solutions that work for Bloomington over the next four decades will not be “cookie cutters from somewhere else, but instead are unique, wonderful Bloomington solutions,” she said. Thomson wrapped up by saying, “We can solve these challenges, but we must work together.”
Questions and Answers
Q&A: Transportation options
Among the questions fielded by candidates was one from former city councilmember David Sabbagh, who served on the city council from 1996 to 2007, which means he overlapped with two current councilmembers, Susan Sandberg and Steve Volan.
Sabbagh phrased his question like this: “It seems to be that everyone wants to make sure that the students have lots of bike paths and stuff. What about those of us who drive safely and want safety? What are you going to do for us and help us get downtown?”
Griffin was first with the mic. “The future of Bloomington lies in being a great multi-generational community,” he said. Diversity, inclusion, and accessibility is important, he told Sabbagh. “So as we look to the future, we also need to look to the people—I’m not saying you’re the past, believe me—we all have to work together!” That got a laugh from Sabbagh.
Griffin continued, “Let’s be honest, people are living longer—I told you, I’m gonna be here for another 50 years.” He wrapped up by saying, “I want to be a community that’s great for me and great for my son.” Sabbagh’s point, Griffin said, was duly noted.
Next up was Thomson. “I think multimodal transit is key, and I ride my bike to work pretty much every day.” She recounted how she had recently had to wear a support boot for her injured ankle. “We need to be thinking about not only how to make things safe for cyclists, but also for pedestrians,” Thomson said.
Some of the cycling infrastructure unintentionally makes things a little bit more difficult for a pedestrian sometimes, Thomson said. Downtown should be accessible for people who can’t walk a great distance, she said.
When Kirkwood Avenue is closed in the summer, Thomson reported that the location for her bus stop, where she gets off for work, gets changed so that the distance from the bus stop to her job increases from two blocks to six blocks. Thomson summed up by saying there are solutions to these challenges: “We can have bikes, and pedestrians, and cars.”
Sandberg named a specific infrastructure project that she thinks “is not working well for everyone in the community,” based on what she’s heard knocking on doors—the 7-Line separated bicycle lane. “We may need to take another look at that, and see if we can redesign it in a way to make it safe for not only the bicyclists” but for other road users. What she hears is that the 7-Line is “rough for buses, it’s rough for emergency vehicles, it doesn’t feel safe for pedestrians trying to get across.”
Sandberg took the chance to highlight how the 7-Line impacts the workers who provide basic city services. To tip the trash carts for houses on the bike lane side of the street, the city’s sanitation workers have to drag the carts across the lane separation, Sandberg said.
The city should build infrastructure that is considerate of all users of streets, Sandberg said. People won’t visit downtown, if they can’t find a place to park, so that they can take advantage of the amenities of the downtown. “We can do better,” Sandberg said. “This is what I mean by building a better Bloomington, not necessarily a bigger one.”
Former city clerk Regina Moore asked about growth. “What is your idea of growth? What’s enough? When will we know that we’ve grown enough?”
Thomson had first crack at Moore’s question. Thomson said she had not talked about “growth” but rather about “attainable housing.” Thomson continued, “We’re at a point where we really need to carefully study how much we grow. And how much is enough for Bloomington.” She added, “I don’t know that anybody has that data yet.”
Thomson noted that there are a lot of people who work in Bloomington who work here, but are unable to live in Bloomington. That is a group that should have a place in Bloomington to live. Thomson thinks there’s a risk of having “Soviet-era apartment complexes everywhere” if Bloomington doesn’t have a clear plan for “what we want, what that looks like, and importantly, how our community feels.” For Thomson, the right question to ask is: “How do we develop in a way that feels like the Bloomington that we want to be today, and in 40 years?”
Griffin started his answer by saying, “You know, I’m not trying to be negative or argumentative, but I don’t know how to stop growth.” Griffin continued, “I don’t think we have the ability to say who gets to come and who doesn’t get to come. It’s happening.” He added, “Bloomington continues to grow 1,200 to 1,500 people a year.”
Griffin noted that people move to Ellettsville or Spencer or Greene County, because there’s not enough housing in Bloomington. “We’re talking about smart, educated people and job creators moving outside of our community,” Griffin said.
Griffin compared Bloomington’s size to that of Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the University of Michigan. “It’s bigger than us by 50,000 to 80,000 people,” Griffin said. “I don’t think anyone who’s been to Ann Arbor says that it’s not a quaint or a neat town,” Griffin said.
Griffin said Bloomington needs to get ready for the eventual completion of I-69: “We need to be prepared.” He repeated a point from his stump speech: When I-69 is completed, getting from Indianapolis to Bloomington will be faster than getting from Indianapolis to Carmel. “I think most people would much rather live in Bloomington, than the Disney World version of Bloomington,” Griffin said.
Housing prices will continue to rise, Griffin said. He concluded, “There are creative solutions, and we’ve got a lot of creative people that can make that happen.”
Sandberg responded to Moore’s question about growth by saying, “I agree that Bloomington is a really great place. And a lot of people really are attracted to come here, because of the amenities, the cultural attractions, the university, all the things that we can boast of, for a small second class city.”
The designation of “second class” city is defined under state law by population—all cities except for Indianapolis are second or third class cities.
What worries Sandberg is not that more people are coming to Bloomington, but that some who live here now are leaving. “I’m hearing a lot of people who are leaving Bloomington because they are not happy with the quality of life,” she said.
Sandberg continued, “We’re starting to lose that charm, we’re starting to lose that character of our neighborhoods and our downtown attractions, that human scale of housing that I think we would all prefer to see.”
Sandberg also pointed to the relationship between growth and infrastructure. “That costs every time you grow—you’re gonna have to expand your infrastructure.” Sandberg also talked about growth from the angle of the expanded geography of the city through annexation. “We have to be able to look the people in the eye, who we are annexing, and tell them: You’re going to get great services from our police department and our fire department and our emergency responders and our utilities and our sanitation.”
She reminded the audience that she was one of three councilmembers who had voted against annexation. The other two were Dave Rollo and Ron Smith. As mayor, Sandberg said, “I’m going to take a really hard look at that, because we must be mindful and responsible in the way we grow.”
13 thoughts on “3 Bloomington mayoral hopefuls speak at first forum”
Drivers want the same thing as everyone else: fewer drivers. The way to get to that is by making sure there are plenty of options other than driving. The way to make driving safer is to make sure cars can’t go fast. Speed kills. The chance of a pedestrian being seriously injured or killed if struck by a car is 45% at 30 mph and 5% at 20 mph.
There seems to be a difference between the candidates regarding growth in Bloomington. I’m all for it and as Mr. Griffin I don’t see how it can be stopped. Bloomington is a great place to live, most people who live here love it and that’s why so many others want to live here. The best we can do is manage that growth to try and make it equitable. That’s why I favor the annexation plans. Everyone should pay their fair share for living here. I would never vote for a candidate for mayor who does not want the city to grow and that’s done primarily through annexation. There’s a reason why many large new houses are just on the outside of our city limits, it’s cheaper if you don’t have to support the city you live, work, and play in, but that is grossly unfair to the people who do pay to live within the city limits.
Good article, there seems to be a distinct difference between the candidates as to growth. Personally, I thought Mr. Griffin had the best response to growth. We’re going to grow so let’s manage it as best we can, which will include annexation (making people support the services they use) and planning for new development. I’m not sure why people would not want to share the nice amenities we have in Bloomington, such as good water, sewers that work, and a reasonable air quality. As to remarks that Bloomington isn’t working, I’m not sure that the statement applies to the majority of city residents. There’s so much good to say about our small community that it would take at least a page to enumerate our blessings.
When it comes to annexation, Mr. Drescher, the dispute is not about the principle of annexation; it’s about overreach and insular thinking. One of the reasons that some areas which the present mayor is trying to annex have been strongly opposed is that the city has stated that it does not intend to provide sewer service to us–nor should it, since that would encourage dense development in the lake watershed. We already pay for city water that our local water company buys from the city, and I have no idea what to make of your argument that we should be paying for the city’s air quality–perhaps you mean we should be paying the city not to increase the net pollution it sends our way? We already pay for other services from the county.
Mayor Hamilton’s annexation plan was developed without consultation with the county or consideration of the impact on the public school system. By maximizing its scope beyond anything justifiable by fairness arguments, the plan also created maximal disruption to the county budget and school funding base by shifting revenues to the city fund. As has been characteristic of the Mayor’s enitre tenure, city government has behaved as though the city is a real entity and its surrounding area is a non-entity, without interests and providing no intrinsic benefits. Much as you might assume everyone should love the blessings of the city and that anyone living outside it is just wealthy and trying to dodge taxes, there are many people who live in the county because they don’t want to be in the city and many more whose incomes are low and who live at a distance because they simply can’t afford the high costs of city housing. (It would be very surprising to me if you were not aware of the latter issue, given how much the scarcity and high cost of city housing has been in the news.)
There is a very good fairness argument for annexation in areas that benefit strongly from being near the city and that do now or will receive full services. The problem with the present mayor’s annexation plan is that it did not stick to those areas and simply tried to grab as much land from the county as the mayor thought he could get away with. If Mr. Griffin plans to pursue the same approach to annexation it suggests he is as uninterested in fairness and thoughtful care as Mr. Hamilton has been.
We’ve had this discussion before so I don’t want to belabor the points.But with your attitude toward the amenities Bloomington has which you don’t seem to appreciate, I wonder if you wouldn’t be happier living outside of Bloomfield or Martinsville where your ox might have less chance of being gored by city encroachment?
Because many residents outside the city live and work inside the city at IU, MCCUM or other non taxable entities, it would seem those individuals would be thrilled at being able to contribute to the upkeep of the area that provides them a livelihood. But of course conservatives have made taxes a dirty word in our society and being able to piggyback on the backs of others is the goal for many. In Mayor Hamilton’s State of the City speech last night he mentioned tax avoidance though much more tactfully than myself. Oddly last night I saw county residents at the State of the City address enjoying the community of which they don’t want to be a real partner.
And just a couple of other thoughts. Air quality is a concern of Mayor Hamilton hence the expanded bus lines, including electric buses, and additional bike lanes to control air pollution. Also since at least one local school principal supports the annexation plans I imagine it will have little impact on school funding. Lastly, anyone in the city would be foolish to vote for anyone who intends to limit the city limits of Bloomington so residents of the county don’t have to contribute to the community where most of them spend their time.
Actually, Mr. Drescher, the city has not encroached where I live. There has been scarcely any development in the sector of the former “fringe” I live in since the city’s last annexation in the ’90s. It is purely the city government that is encroaching, not the actual city–which may give you a sense of why I speak of overreach. Given that the land is as it has been, I wonder why you feel it’s ok to breezily assert that I ought to leave a property I’ve worked to make home for over thirty years and move to a different town. It seems to reflect a spirit of condescention that, as a liberal, I find dispiriting when I hear other liberals express. I always thought “love it or leave it” was the approach of a different mindset. (And I have no idea where you get the idea that I don’t appreciate Bloomington. I think it’s a great place, but since retiring, I don’t go into town much.)
Personally, I have no problem paying increased taxes–I think our tax rates are far too low. However, my views align with my conservative neighbors when it comes to the idea that adding bike lanes will meaningfully alter air pollution. There are arguments for adding bike lanes–although none, I think, that can justify the wasteful expenditure on 7th St.–but looking for measurable cuts in air pollution is not one of them: it’s a symbolic stance. Expanded bus lines and electrified vehicles are excellent options, but notice that your argument is that my countrified neighborhood should be paying higher taxes to reduce air pollution in your urban neighborhood: not really a great strategy for a “tax fairness” position.
The sole personal reason I oppose annexation in my particular case is because I do not believe the city should incorporate the lake watershed–and in 2006 the City Council explored that issue and agreed: increased sewer leads to increased development, runoff, pollution, and siltation for the area’s sole water supply. That part of the city planning document quietly disappeared in later revisions, and it has never been explained why. It is the reason I personally would prefer that the city not dig sewer lines even if my area is annexed, despite the fact that I would then be receiving fewer basic services than other city taxpayers. City representatives did, however, tell our neighborhood that if the city determined that it wanted to provide sewer to us, we would have to accept it and to pay a $10K initial hookup fee plus an ongoing pumping surcharge because of the topography here. Most of the people around me are already conservative, but that sort of news seems to me to be a great way to mint new ‘R’s’ for the foreseeable future. It does have a Hamiltonian ring to it, though.
I completely agree with you that it’s odd that there were county residents enjoying the state of the city address. It is odd that anybody would enjoy a state of the city address.
Amenities that the people really enjoy, like the Taste of Bloomington which is a 40 year tradition, is cancelled for 2023….
Well, my weak arguments that people should pay taxes to support the places where they live and work will never change anyone’s mind. After 40 years of conservative propaganda that taxes ruin everyone’s life and no one, particularly the wealthy should have to pay them, it’s an uphill battle justifying any taxation.I was thankful that Mayor Hamilton in his State of the City address spoke specifically to this problem and mindset. What we do together in the US is so much more important than what we do individually. Our parks, our roads, our bike lanes, our electric buses, our jails, our public libraries, our universities, these are some of the entities and accomplishments that taxpayers in Bloomington can look to as the result of our taxes. And we should all be proud, these are some of the efforts that make this community a great place to live and work. That many want to benefit from what taxpayers have accomplished without getting involved themselves is understandable, but I would never vote for any candidate that doesn’t want even a bigger and better list of accomplishments and I praise Mayor Hamilton for his vision and persistence in trying to make Bloomington an even better place to live for all Hoosiers..
The problem with your arguments, Mr. Drescher, aren’t that they’re weak; it’s that they are misdirected. I am not arguing against annexation. I think it is an essential part of the growth process. I am arguing against the Mayor’s annexation *overreach* and you have not seemd to register that at any point.
The tax issue concerns property tax, which is a payment to support services received individually and common goods such as the court system (which is under the county budget) and public schools (not funded by the city). Those in the county now already support the major common goods. The Mayor’s plan included wide swaths that would pay city-only property tax increments for expensive services they will not receive. I’ve already noted sewer. If a large area the Mayor has targeted in the watershed is incorporated in the city, the only options will be either to provide sewer lines, which the city itself has acknowledged will have a major negative environmental impact, or to charge individuals for services not delivered. Why did the Mayor include those areas? In many areas, such as mine, it would be nice to have sidewalks on the country roads we live on, but while that would deliver a service it would be manifestly unwise for the city fiscally, because the cost would be extremely high and the widely separated houses would generate far less use than new or improved sidewalks within the actual city. We would either cost you all money or we would be paying for a major amenity not offered to us. Annexation is not appropriate. I have argued in favor of annexation for years, but when the Mayor’s plan was first announced my immediate reaction was: How am I going to be able to defend this?
Of course people should pay taxes where they live. Where services were extended and waivers applied I think the case for annexation is generally strong. Your idea that people should pay *property* taxes where they work is not in any way consistent with the principle of property taxes. County residents who work in the city pay income taxes, sales taxes, parking fees, and so forth consistent with the benefits they receive. You seem to think property taxes should be part of a fungible mix of fees, but that is not the system we have, regardless of whether rates are high or too low (as I believe they are).You also have a caricature view of county residents as wealthy, when in fact most of those living in the county are not, and many live distant from work because they cannot afford the high costs of living in the city and receiving city services. I have never seen in any of your comments indication that you are concerned about the impact on them, whether annexation of their specific properties is justified or not, but you feel free to use your disdin for wealthier people who live in the county as an argument. I share your view of GOP ideology on taxes, but as a liberal, I would expect the impact on low income people to be a more immediate concern. Indiana’s tax code fails all tests for progressivity, but unfortunately it is the framework within which we have to work.
Until you are willing to acknowledge and address the issues raised about the Mayor’s specific plan and the overreach it entails you will not be defending it, only reasonable annexation in principle. We have no difference of opinion on the latter.
My family lived in New Albany, my father worked in Louisville, he paid an extra tax because he did not live in the state in which he worked. I believe even the Federal tax form has a provision for taxes earned out of country or state, so I think it’s relatively common practice to pay some taxes where you work, though I’m just speaking from some slight personal experience. Oh and I do believe that some foreign stock I owned was taxed at a different rate than my domestic investments. Funny that wealthy people often use the argument that they are only looking out for the interest of poor people to avoid paying taxes. Though I’m not accusing you Bob of that error specifically, as I have no idea where you live or your income, and don’t really want to know. But during the numerous debates of the Convention Center and the extra Food and Beverage tax, it was always that poor people couldn’t eat out anymore if 2% or so was added to the bill.Not one restaurant in Bloomington that my wife and I visit, shuttered their doors because of what was decried as a massive tax increase on the population of this area. You get what you pay for is the old adage and the same is true with taxes, low taxes, poor quality of life, more taxes a better quality of life. Among first world countries the US pays some of the lowest taxes leading to some of the poorest health care outcomes, educational outcomes, and quality of life. Most of the EU are ahead of us. Putting our local annexation issue in this context makes it very small potatoes. Didn’t a local GOP notable move to Bloomfield for the quality of life there and redistricting issues, and now here he is back again. And I think one of the mayoral candidates moved away for a time and here she is back again, because as she stated nothing works here or something similar to that.
Mike, the taxes your “out-of-state” family paid were income taxes, not property taxes. Different types of taxes are for different purposes and have different legal structures. The issue you raise is covered in Indiana by the Local Income Tax (LIT), which has a complex structure allocating tax obligations to both residents and non-resident earners. It is based on counties, not areas within counties, but the way the LIT is set by each county gives determinative weight in Monroe County to Bloomington.
For example, Bloomington city government recently imposed a 50% increase in LIT on all of us in the county because it holds a majority vote on the countywide LIT Council. No record of discussion or announcement I’m aware of indicated that the city government was in any way interested in the views of county residents in this action, although *about 60% of every dollar that residents outside the city pay in LIT goes directly to the city general fund.* The 50% increase was an entirely city-driven initiative, with the city share earmarked for city priorities. (You can read the city’s announcement of prevailing on this issue here: https://bloomington.in.gov/news/2022/05/05/5170. Note that the Mayor says: “I am gratified that our City Council and the administration worked together to take care of our current residents and to protect and advance the community for coming generations.” Not one word about the county, where 40% of these taxpayers reside.)
There are inequities in this system in that county residents outside the city cannot vote for the City Council, whose members effectively determine the LIT, and are thus subjected to “taxation without representation.” However, that’s the law. In my opinion, the LIT rate was far too low, and the new rates are much better so the outcome is, in sum, a good one. But the effective disenfranchisement of 40% of those paying the tax–many of whom do *not* work in the city or live near it–is wrong. (I have no suggested fix for this, other than that the city work cooperatively with the county to avoid the type of unilateral outcome that we saw last year.)
So the tax code already delivers county-resident tax dollars to the city in excess of any dollars flowing the other way. As for wealthy people in the county, whom you are so exercised about, given the amount of wealth that is located in the city, I think you might find it unsurprising that some people in the county view the LIT issue as the wealthy city bullying the poorer county and taking its residents’ money. I think that’s as much a caricature as your picture of county residents, but I also think you can see there’s some basis in what those folks believe.
I was involved in arguments about the food & beverage tax / convention center tax. *No one ever* referred to it as a massive tax or predicted it would drive residents out of business–when you caricature the opposition in this way it suggests you have no real argument. The objection was that a tax that, for local residents, was in effect regressive was being proposed without showing that there would be net benefits for low income residents. (I was arguing in favor of the tax, and I had to admit that those opposed had identified real weaknesses in the proposal, though I thought they too were distorting the mixed evidence we were debating about.) Since the Mayor has failed to honor early agreements with the county and the convention center matter has been stalemated, we can’t now assess which argument was valid. Lower income residents have been paying the tax without, so far, receiving a benefit, which is utterly contrary to liberal policy as I understand it. (I’m not going to get into the complex matter of the way those funds were used, legitimately or illegitimately, during the Covid emergency period, since it is unrelated to the policy debate about the tax’s adoption.)
Saying that annexation is small potatoes when you consider the world’s problems is not an argument. We’re all small potatoes in the grand cosmic scheme: so what? I can’t figure out what you’re trying to say with your two examples of people moving back and forth. One seems to imply that Bloomington is wonderful and the other that it’s terrible. I don’t know whom you’re referring to, and anecdotes about two people are not actual arguments.
I am somewhat confused as to your arguments against annexation, as you indicate you are in favor of annexation for others just not for your area, though you would like to pay more taxes as you find them too low. You also think it unreasonable for anyone to suggest that if you don’t like living here,you might want to move. At one point you say you’ve spent 30 years working to improve your homestead, farm, whatever, yet you rarely go to Bloomington and thus feel no reason to support it. Even seeming to make light of efforts by the city to reduce reliance on automobiles by creating safe bike lanes. If we want to meet our climate goals certainly alternative transportation is in our future. And that is one of the accomplishments of our current mayor an attempt locally to help mitigate global warming through promoting alternate transportation, bikes and mass transit. What seems to some to be overreach in annexation might be more of an attempt to expand public transport and create a city wide effort to combat global warming.
By citing personal experiences with taxation without seeing immediate benefits which you seem to oppose I was merely trying to point out that taxation does not always involve immediate benefits. As to the local income tax, it seems equitable to me. !00 people voted on the rate and distribution of funds. The money was distributed based on population with Bloomington, because it contains 58% of the county’s residents receiving over 50% of the money, much of which is designed for global warming mitigation. And we just disagree about who can best manage the lake’s watershed, you personally, county government, or the city. I think the city probably has a real vested interest and the funds to watch over the watershed.
We will probably never agree on this issue, though on so many others I’ve found you to be one of the wisest commentators in local media. No hard feelings on my part anyway. I’m often didactic and overbearing or so I’ve been told, but I grew up in a large family where arguments at the dinner table were frequent. I’d just say again that upon attending the Democratic Club meeting and hearing the three candidates for mayor Don Griffin has my vote because he seems to have the most rational approach to growth in our city and a desire to continue environmental mitigation efforts to combat global warming.
Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I wouldn’t be debating with you at such length if I didn’t think your advocacy was interesting and important. I think we agree on many things.
I was originally an advocate for annexation in my area because the city line actually extends to my backyard, and I felt (and wrote in the H-T 25 years ago) that there would soon be no principled reason not to extend the city further. My position chaged when I was shown through maps that my property was also right over the edge of the lake watershed. I had devoted a lot of time in the ’90s to protecting the watershed against development in a county government context. It would be more convenient to me if my arguments didn’t appear self-serving and I could advocate for my neighborhood being annexed and much of the rest of “Area 2” not being annexed, but I no longer believe that’s the right outcome. (As it happens also, the development I anticipated 25 years ago in the strip of land the city has aimed at here did not actually occur. My property does, in fact, border a mixture of woods and farmland, would require high cost to provide sewer, and is still simply not part of any urban domain.)
I have never said that because I rarely go to Bloomington I feel no reason to support it. I do, in fact, support it financially in a number of ways beyond income and other taxes. I was responding to your assertions that people who do not want to pay property taxes in Bloomington and be regulated by its government spend lots of their time there and are therefore in some way freeloading. And when you say, “You also think it unreasonable for anyone to suggest that if you don’t like living here, you might want to move” there is some irony. I like living here very much and I don’t want to move. It is the city that is moving, not me. As for whether I should move away from the city, which is not “here”: I did, over 30 years ago. We looked at lots of places, some inside city limits and some not, and this was where we wanted to be. Taxes had absolutely zero to do with it; the countryside did. But, yes, I do think your “love it or leave it” statement is absolutely unreasonable. Any city that responds to advocacy by saying that minority advocates should leave has lost touch with the principles that make a democratic system sustainable.
The reliability of the city’s stewardship over the watershed is much in doubt, as I see it. The 2006 Council position against development of most of what is now Area 2 has been rescinded without comment. A development I spent a lot of effort opposing on fragile ridge terrain above the immediate lake watershed was provided sewer by the city many years ago, a very poor environmental decision that created a beachhead of “waivered” property that ironically supports the city’s current annexation effort. If the city did plan to restrict development in these areas, it could have reinstated that principle in its long-term growth plan. It did not. The county, however, has been active in advocating for watershed protection. After all, the lake is in the county, not the city.
I can’t assess your defense of the LIT process because the sentence, “!00 people voted on the rate and distribution of funds” has a typo–I’m sure you can’t mean “100,” since that makes no sense. It’s not cogent to defend the process by asserting that you like the city budget priorities resulting from it. That’s not a process matter.
If I seem to make light of the environmental impact of the city’s efforts to help stem global warming, it’s because the effect will be so light as to be unmeasurable. As for expanding transportation into the lightly settled areas of the fringe, I think it would be very expensive with minimal payback, financially or socially. It would be nice for me to have a bus line to ride, but almost no one here would use it, largely because there is almost no one here. Remember, I’m writing about annexation overreach, not annexation–this is one example of how you can spot it.
Obviously, at this point it’s just the two of us carrying on here. Let’s put this to bed till next time. I guarantee to read any response you’d like to post in reply and to hit “Like” so that you’ll know I’ve heard your further points, but unless you do something outrageous, like attacking the character of my cats or our choice of early-blooming daffodils, I’ll let this be my last (long) word.