All eight annexation ordinances that Bloomington’s city council will consider on Sept. 15 include a date on which their affected areas become a part of the city: Jan. 1, 2024.
That’s less than two months after the next city elections for mayor, city clerk and city councilmembers.
If the effective date were set for Jan. 1, 2023, annexees would be able to participate in the ordinary democratic process for choosing local representatives.
The fact that new residents of the city would have to wait until 2027 to participate in city elections is a source of fair complaint. Even some Bloomington city council members have admitted they feel bad about it.
While the council could vote to amend the annexation ordinances to change their effective dates to Jan. 1, 2023, the council has shown no visible signs that it’s inclined to do that.
If the city council does not want to make annexees city residents in time to give them the right to vote in the 2023 municipal elections, then the council should at least allow future annexees to have some influence on the upcoming process for re-drawing city council districts.
At its Wednesday work session, Monroe County’s board of commissioners agreed on a resolution that will establish an advisory committee to guide its decisions on the redrawing of precinct and district boundaries for the county.
The upcoming work of potentially redrawing precinct boundaries—and possibly districts for county commissioners and county councilors—is prompted by the decennial census. That’s the same impetus for the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts, which is currently underway.
Redistricting work on the local level can’t be completed until the state-level districts are drawn. If an existing precinct is split by a state legislative or congressional district, it has to be redrawn so that it is not split.
The leading theory for the 1.5-percent drop, from 80,405 to 79,168, is based on the fact that Bloomington is home to Indiana University’s flagship campus.
The city experienced a pandemic-related mass exodus of students right around the time the census count was taking place, in late March and April. The university delivered remote-only instruction for the rest of the spring semester.
Thousands of students were undercounted in the 2020 Census, goes the theory, which would explain why the vintage 2019 estimates by the US Census Bureau put the population of Bloomington at 86,630, or about 7,000 more than the actual count done in 2020.
If students were undercounted, then that should be reflected in losses in on-campus and near-campus neighborhoods where many students live. The geographic distribution does show diminished numbers in areas on and near campus.
A different theory of that geographic distribution does not rely on the idea of a student undercount: If there were fewer students actually living in those campus areas, fewer students would be counted there.
That’s a theory that looks like it could have some support from two possible perspectives.
A fair amount of effort has already gone into trying to understand why the US Census Bureau’s actual count put Bloomington’s population lower than the same agency’s most recent estimates.
Not receiving as much attention has been the potential utility of the fresh census numbers for Bloomington’s current plans to add territory to the city.
The 2020 Census count outside Bloomington has not been subject to the same kind of skepticism as the area inside the city.
So the population of the proposed annexation areas, as measured by the 2020 Census, could factor into upcoming Bloomington city council deliberations, unimpeded by doubts about accuracy.
Of course, population density (at least 3 people per acre) is just one of the statutory considerations in Indiana’s annexation laws.
Another statutory consideration includes how much of the proposed annexation areas is subdivided or is parceled through separate ownerships into lots or parcels. A third factor mentioned in the state statute is whether the territory is zoned for commercial, business, or industrial uses.
The most recent estimates from the US Census had pegged the city’s population at around 86,000. But the 2020 numbers came in under 80,000, less even than the actual count in 2010.
The result was a big enough surprise that the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, issued a statement last Friday, the day after the results were released. The statement raises the possibility that the reported numbers are not accurate, because of an undercount of Indiana University students.
Hamilton’s statement points out: “[M]uch of the census data collection began the very week thousands of university students were directed to leave for the semester due to the COVID pandemic.”
If an undercount of university students contributed to Bloomington’s lower numbers, the undercount would likely be detectable in the geographic distribution of population losses in Bloomington, as counted by the US Census.
Based on a B Square plot of precinct population counts in 2020 compared to 2010, the idea that college students were undercounted has some statistical support.
It was predominantly areas on and near the Indiana University campus that showed lower counts in 2020 compared to 2010.
Bloomington has lost population since 2010. That’s based on fresh 2020 numbers released by the US Census Bureau around 1 p.m. on Thursday.
In 2020, Bloomington’s census was 79,168, which is 1,237 fewer than the 80,405 Bloomington residents who were counted ten years ago. That’s a 1.5-percent loss in population over the last decade.
Based on initial inquiries by The B Square to local experts, the possibility that Bloomington’s numbers reflect an undercount of Indiana University students, because of the pandemic, is a leading theory for Bloomington’s drop.
For Monroe County overall, Thursday’s news was not quite as bleak. The number of Monroe County residents counted by the US Census in 2020 was 139,718, or about 1.3 percent more than the 137,974 who were counted in 2010.
Bloomington and Monroe County’s trends fall outside the growth of the Indianapolis metro area. Overall, Indiana showed a roughly 4.7 percent growth in population over the last ten years.