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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Census Data, Annexation Waivers

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Unknown Speaker
All righty, I believe it is loading and we are live on WFIU Facebook This is ask the mayor on WFIU Hello again everybody. I'm Joe Hren. This week we're joined by Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton. Hello and welcome.

Unknown Speaker
Joe, good to be with you again. Welcome to you. I'm glad to glad to be with you even though it's still zoom.

Unknown Speaker
Yes, yes, we'll hopefully get there soon be able to get over into your office as before. Just want to let everyone know who's watching right now. Don't forget, you can submit a question to news at Indiana public media.org course you can comment on this video below. And we'll we'll check this afterwards too, for those who join us later. Because we have Mayor Hamilton every month and we do appreciate him taking the time to do this. This is being recorded on a Monday. Normally we do this on Tuesdays some scheduling stuff. So this will be aired on Wi Fi you on Wednesdays. So there may be some some new stuff happening but at least we can talk about what we've been talking about now for over a year and a half COVID-19 more Indiana cases then since January, Monroe County under that yellow advisory state metric, though Mayor students are coming back city being full again, football games we'll start parties will start. How worried are you about the spread of COVID-19?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe, you know, it's it's really hard to believe we're we're here again, if you will, 18 months after the pandemic hit us. We we know how to get out of this. It's vaccinations. And we unfortunately have not had enough uptake of those. thank everybody who's getting vaccinated and let me know, it's hugely valuable and important that we have large institutions like Indiana University and IU health and similar who are who are really pushing their numbers very high with their approaches and protocols and requirements. That's helpful, very helpful for our community. So kudos to them. We will continue as an employer, for example, we offer $100. For everybody who demonstrates vaccinations. That's how we're getting out of this unfortunately, here we are, again, as you said the numbers are going really dramatically in the wrong number wrong direction, again, this fall with with case loads with positivity rates, hospitalizations, even the death rates have significantly risen in the state. So it's a great concern. It's It's tragic, really, that we haven't taken advantage fully of the of the fix. So I'm worried we're having to, you know, we have a mask ordinance in effect, again, in Monroe County, even though the state does not we're taking the right steps, I think to be very careful. We got 1000s of kids in school who cannot get vaccinated who we need to keep safe. We've got many, many people who are particularly susceptible to the disease. So here we are, again, it's it's frustrating, and it is concerning, but we'll keep doing the right things that we can.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and one of the metrics used a lot of courses that the hospitals whose years and hospitals with COVID-19 jumped nearly 30% now in Monroe County, 68 persons were hospitalized a few days ago. With the virus in Monroe County, it's up from 6060 to Wednesday, the numbers kind of back to February rate. So as this always kind of being that metric, if numbers keep going up. What's next in Monroe County.

Unknown Speaker
Well, so it's, you know, yeah, the hospitalizations have gone up from 20 to 60. And the the key key thing is if you're if you're if you're vaccinated, you're not going to get sick. rarely, rarely Will you have to go to the hospital. The vast majority of people in the hospital And those dying are unvaccinated. So it's kind of a tale of two pandemics, right? The pandemic for people are vaccinated is more like a flu and more like cold and occasionally very bad outcomes, but very, very rare. And then the pandemic among the unvaccinated is, like we've seen before, it's very dangerous, it can kill you, it can really devastate families and such. So, you know, we're gonna have to keep watching, do we need to go back to gathering size limits? You know, we haven't yet. Because it does matter that you have a lot of vaccinated people, do we need to have tighter controls on spacing and in restaurants and those kinds of things and numbers of people who can attend? I hope not. But we are going to let the science and the health drive what needs to be done to keep everybody safe?

Unknown Speaker
It seems like the word is getting out there, too. There. There has been a 30% increase in vaccination rates to and I think these numbers going up, maybe people are getting the message a little bit. And I think is that the job? Just getting the message out there?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I hope I hope that's a good trend. It is a good trend. I hope it continues. You know, it's it's it's tricky. We've we've all been all around the country, our own state people trying to figure out what is the message that works. And it's different. We did a poll of employees who had not been vaccinated and asked why and got some different different answers. Some said, doesn't matter what you tell me, I'm not going to get vaccinated others indicated Well, maybe I will if I get more information. So some people we a lot depend upon a family members or friends are seeing more evidence of people, they know what's happened. Sometimes the tragedy of losing a family member or a friend can be motivating. Let's hope it doesn't have to come to that. But we just keep trying to send out all the information we can in different ways. Because it's it's really not complicated. This this disease goes away when we enough of us get vaccinated, and we're not there yet.

Unknown Speaker
Maybe Mayor Bennett in Terre Haute has always told us on the show, just ask your doctor, go to your doctor. And maybe it's something you don't want to hear from a politician or from, you know, leaders. And maybe that's a good message to

Unknown Speaker
absolutely any health care professional. Don't Don't just read it on the web or hear somebody rumor, go talk to a health care professional, your doctor and nurse, a trusted expert.

Unknown Speaker
And just one quick thing on the mask ordinance. It seems like maybe this is just an observation, but there's a complacency as many people still not wearing masks or maybe not being enforced as much as you know, the last time and perhaps these people are vaccinated so that they they feel that Oh, I'm okay. But is there a bigger reason for the mask mandate?

Unknown Speaker
Well, so it is it's tricky, because those of us who got vaccinated, there was a period of time when you didn't have to wear a mask and you were fine. And and you were, you are more protected. Unfortunately, with the Delta variant, that's really been the game changer because it is so infectious. It became advisable for all of us, even those who are vaccinated to wear masks so that we can stop that virus, which can still spread through vaccinated people, even if it doesn't make us very sick. So we really all need to be masked, it's the two things right now most important, wear a mask when you should indoors and around other people and get vaccinated. If you're if you're eligible. Those are the two things that will get us through this.

Unknown Speaker
I wanted to bring up the census numbers released last week show Bloomington down about 1200 people. Have you had time to look at these numbers? And what are you seeing and what's your reaction?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I haven't looked at them in detail, but I will tell you, I don't believe them. It's really not credible, that that Bloomington went down in population from 2010 to 220 20. All the estimates from the Census Bureau in the meantime, in all the years since have shown us growing to 86,000, adding 6000 people, all the evidence we have from school enrollments, to taxes to different different schools, you know, all kinds of different measures indicate growth. So what it appears to be and we were, of course, really worried about this was this is what happens when you take a census that starts the week after your big university says go home. And I'm very concerned about it. We don't think it's accurate. It's really very important. So we are pursuing all the kind of avenues that we can we're not unique. There's a lot of places around the country that are concerned about this. But it's it's really important not just for for Democracy and you know how we vote and count and set districts and all that, but also for funding, a lot of funding follows these kind of census numbers. So I don't, I don't believe that Bloomington has shrunk. They also reported a bunch of vacant housing, more housing units and people, that's just not the reality on the ground. But we have to do our due diligence and homework to try to figure out what happened and what we can do about it.

Unknown Speaker
I know you just mentioned about the university. That was my next question, the why then the 1200 decrease?

Unknown Speaker
Well, when you have a great your big university told 10s of 1000s of students to go home, and international students may not have returned, and then you're counting that population. It's not a shock that it's quite different. But it it, it's really important that we try to work with the Census Bureau and the powers that be to reflect in particularly in this university community, that that was really an anomaly that spring 2020. So we'll hope that that can come to pass.

Unknown Speaker
You just mentioned, you know, this does affect federal funding. Can you maybe dig into that a little bit about how much that could affect Bloomington and in what areas?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I remember when we were first looking at the census, that if we missed one out of 300 people in a census count, that could get add up to a million dollars of loss over 10 years. Well, if you miss 1000s of people, that's a huge impact many millions of dollars through all kinds of federal programs, some of which are formula allocation, some of which go through the individuals flow through, certainly the Housing and Urban Development money. And and I I don't know all the different sources. But we want a census that is accurate. We don't we don't want more people than we have here. But we but we want to be sure that we counted accurately, who lives in Bloomington and the fact that this city has unquestionably been growing over the last 10 years in population inside the city limits.

Unknown Speaker
You seem to indicate there was something that you can do or work with the census. I mean, is there anything that Bloomington can do to try to update these there? Are

Unknown Speaker
there are both there are both formal appeal processes, their formal appeal processes? And I understand some cities may be pursuing litigation as well, I don't know we'll be we'll be looking at any ways we can try to get the most accurate count that we can.

Unknown Speaker
Well, leads into annexation. City Council public hearing concluded Wednesday, of course, many people join the virtual zoom, meeting against it. View said it's taxation without representation services, they don't need more restrictions. Even hearing by a woman who has a llama, what did you take away from the hearing? Well,

Unknown Speaker
and thanks for asking about it. It was good hearings, a few hours of hearings, I think the biggest takeaways to me are a couple. We had something in the order of 70 or 80. commenters. So that's out of about 14,000 people who are affected potentially by the annexation, so that it's that says, you know, obviously, most the vast majority of people did not, did not weigh in on that. But we heard people who did not, did not want the annexation for various purposes. As a second big takeaway I would I would bring is that we really didn't hear many there was a little bit of particular, saying, Well, yes, annex this, but don't annex that, or there's a line, you ought to change here or there. There were a few of those. And those are why it's important to have the hearings. And you know, I actually recommended we drop an area seven on the far north side based on a lot of the feedback, but the vast majority was not dramatically changed this line or that line or it you know, maybe there's we had a handful of recommendation. So Joe, most of these areas were long intended for annexation for many, many years. That's why the sewer system has been extended out this far for these places. It was often done 20 or more than 20 years ago, to say we want you to be part of the city, you should get city sewers and you should become part of the city. And then as you know, for a long time the city didn't do annexation, and that's regrettable we should have and we're kind of trying to play catch up to right size to city so that hearing what well, we had plenty of opportunity for anybody who wanted to comment and open the microphones and now the council will take up any amendments and then by September we hope and expect there'll be final votes on the ordinances.

Unknown Speaker
I wanted to get your response on the the county commissioners read a statement against all areas of annexation, they called for more of a voluntary annexation, and also worried about funding county services and a jail that needs replaced in their statement. And and in the public hearing as well. Just your response to that?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we work closely with the county commissioners, county council members, school Corporation, solid waste district library, all of those players. In my view, annexation, which has been done for over 180 years in Bloomington is a regular, orderly process to let the city boundaries move to where people are living in dense city like environments generally. And we've done it many, many times. And we will do it I hope continue to do it. We will work I my view is annexation makes the city stronger, it makes the county stronger, it makes the region stronger. And it makes our partners stronger. And there are some occasional impacts on on annual finances. We look we'll be a strong partner with the county in criminal justice reform that's long overdue, it's really important we look forward to that absolutely is going to be important. Funding relationships with that. But annexation doesn't diminish the capacity of the county to to do its work. Most of the county's money comes from city residents. And we want we all of us want a very strong and effective county government. Just Just to give one example, the county does have some reduction in revenue. But by our analysis, it looks like they're per mile street fund, for example, their per mile funding for how many streets they manage would go up after annexation rather than down. And we certainly look forward to working with them. And again, I think annexation will strengthen all of us.

Unknown Speaker
And I just get from that statement that they weren't necessarily against annexation, but more against how much and the process that that's been going through, though.

Unknown Speaker
Well, the the idea of moving to voluntary annexation is is worth debating as a move toward that. The problem is we have all of these areas, many 1000s of acres that were done under the law that Indiana had which was you can extend city services in exchange for a waiver of remonstrance. Meaning basically, we will extend you services now for sewer and water, for example, and you can join the city later, you'll just agree that when it's time to join the city, you'll agree to join the city. That's that's in a way a voluntary transaction. Because if you don't want the sewers, you don't have to sign that waiver. You don't you don't have to do that. We could do voluntary annexation in the future after this annexation, where you can have contiguous areas and say, Hey, we'd like sewers extended and we want to be have those city services. At that point, we may have to say we won't extend them until you join the city. Because we can't rely on the waivers given the city state legislatures work on those.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and I actually wanted to ask you about that too, because we we talked about this as it's that 2019 law that I believe you're referring to that invalidates waivers over a certain period of time. But on the city's website, I believe you can go into a database and look to see if your resident if your property is under a waiver, but that includes all waivers. Correct, not the ones that would be taken away from that 2019 wall.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, see, this gets pretty technical Joe, and you know it at one level, it's pretty basic. These just reflect agreements, contracts that were made between the city of Bloomington utilities, which extended sewers, in exchange for an agreement to join the city. That was done regularly. It was actually required by state law and a lot of circumstances to get those agreements. Because the theory is we want you to be in the city. We just may not want it immediately for various reasons. And the vast majority of these areas that we're proposing to annex were intended for annexation to the many years. Now the state took this to step what we think is actually illegal and unconstitutional. You've heard that from us before and and we hate hate to have to do that. But we were right the last time and we think they've illegally interfered with that agreement by saying, Well, you can't enforce that agreement, even though we did our side of the bargain. So we'll see where that ends up. But the big picture is, look, this was this was the city extending our services in exchange for people joining the city at some point. And we're we are admittedly playing catch up now because of 17 years of no annexation and we have to do a bit of a step to get the city right side So that we can then do it more incrementally in the future.

Unknown Speaker
Even though I understand your take on that, that that's that you think that laws are unconstitutional. It's still a law right now. And so isn't that misleading? To show all those waivers that may be not under that that 2019 law?

Unknown Speaker
I don't think he's missed. I mean, we're just we're just sharing what the waivers are. There is a dispute about the effect of the law, but they're they're waivers. They're, they're in existence, and we're just reporting what they are. I do think it'll ultimately probably take a court to, to unpack this. And regrettably, you know, the state legislature has, again, taken very aggressive steps, in our view, illegal but certainly aggressive to try to stop a city annexation going forward. And I have to say it's frustrating the feel of this kind of anti urban, anti municipality tenor up in the state house, but we're going to continue to try to do the right thing for the city and and, you know, the sewers were extended, the sewer company, city utility spent a lot of money, expanding the pipes out that far in order to help. It's a good for the environment. It's good for sustainability to have this extensive sewer system. And it's time now to integrate that into the city. That's it's just kind of a basic fairness issue.

Unknown Speaker
And we're getting short on time. I just wanted to confirm what point I believe you said earlier. So if it does come down to those waivers, the city would take the governor or the Indiana legislature back to court.

Unknown Speaker
If it comes to litigation, it's not clear that it would but if it turns out to be that the status of a certain amount of waivers is the is a pivotal factor. It will probably end up in court somehow. I don't know exactly how but we hope it won't come to that and that people understand this was a fair square deal. And we want you to be part of Bloomington This is a you know, we're all part of this community. It's It was interesting Joe, half the half the people who said I don't want to be annex say I'm from Bloomington, I live in Bloomington, but I don't want to be annexed I mean, they think of themselves as Bloomington Indians, because they live in and about working, rest and restaurants and parks and they call themselves a Bloomington but they're they just don't want to be in the illegal city limits.

Unknown Speaker
So just to kind of understand this next step, I think the next meeting is August 30. And it's with city staff and city council as they craft those amendments to reshape if needed any of those proposed areas is am I on the right track there?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. So August 31, is the scheduled city council hearing to consider any amendments that would be proposed by city council members to change the boundaries, they can be shrunk, they cannot be expanded, or an area like area seven we suggest to be dropped. So that should be should occur on August 31. And that's a public meeting or PPA regular city council meeting public meeting people can attend and I'm sure the council will manage public input as they usually do.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, okay. Are there any Are you record? I know you said you recommended Section seven off the map. Are there any other areas that you're looking at in either reducing or taking off right now?

Unknown Speaker
Well, there are a few kind of pretty small areas, single streets and that have been discussed and proposed. And it would that was one of the interesting things in the public hearings, there weren't really major changes, for example, on the west side moving moving the boundary, you know, to one street or another that much dramatically. The area seven on the north side, I mentioned these, there's a handful of kind of rifle shot amendments that may or may not come and we're reviewing those and thinking about them. And those would probably be disposed of on the 31st one way or the other. And then the city council acts on the on the ordinance if they actually make a final vote on up or down on the annexation. In mid September is their current schedule September 15.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, about three minutes left as time goes by so fast, but I always want to give you some time to to make any announcements or other special things that are going on.

Unknown Speaker
Oh, thanks, Joe. Appreciate always appreciate the time you know, this is an exciting time for Bloomington despite the pandemic and the concerns about that we also feel the energy and excitement of people coming back to town kids back to the to the K 12 schools and of course, university people coming back so be careful. We always want to remind people watch when you're driving and when you're moving about town. There's a lot of new drivers new pedestrians, new bicyclists around, so be extra careful, please and then, you know, just check our website. There's lots of festivities coming up outdoor festivities we particularly enjoy And, and welcome people to do fact you can even I plan to be at an orchestra event on August 29. I think it is. That'll be fun. It's switchyard a big, big orchestra event in the big in the big pavilion, so that'd be fun.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Thanks again so much for your time. today. I know you're busy. For those who are watching. You can also submit a question news at Indiana public media.org. And also for Terre Haute, Mayor Columbus and Nashville, Indiana. Again, thank you very much, Mayor. We'll see you next time. Thanks, Joe. Good to be with you. Thanks so much.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton during Monday's Zoom call. (Zoom)

Hamilton says he doesn't believe the U.S. Census numbers are accurate, more restrictions could come if COVID numbers continue to rise, and the city could take Gov. Holcomb to court over the 2019 annexation waiver legislation.

In this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Monday. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: In the past week alone, Hoosiers in hospitals with COVID-19 has jumped nearly 30 percent. 68 persons are hospitalized with the virus in Monroe County, up from 60 Thursday. The numbers are back to February rates. This was always a metric about restrictions, if numbers keep going up, what’s next?

Hamilton: The hospitalizations have gone up from 20 to 60. And the key thing is, if you're vaccinated, you're not going to get sick. Rarely will you have to go to the hospital. The vast majority of people in the hospital and those dying are unvaccinated. So it's kind of a tale of two pandemics, right? The pandemic for people are vaccinated is more like a flu and more like cold and occasionally very bad outcomes, but very rare. And then the pandemic among the unvaccinated is, like we've seen before, it's very dangerous, it can kill you, it can really devastate families.

So, we're gonna have to keep watching. Do we need to go back to gathering size limits? We haven't yet because it does matter that you have a lot of vaccinated people. Do we need to have tighter controls on spacing and in restaurants and those kinds of things and numbers of people who can attend? I hope not. But we are going to let the science and the health drive what needs to be done to keep everybody safe.

READ MORE: State Records More Than 1,500 COVID-19 Hospitalizations For First Time Since Feb. 3

Hren: Census numbers released last week show Bloomington is lost 1,200 people – have you had time to look at the numbers and what are you seeing?

Hamilton: I haven't looked at them in detail, but I will tell you, I don't believe them. It's really not credible that Bloomington went down in population from 2010 to 2020. All the estimates from the Census Bureau in the meantime, in all the years since have shown us growing to 86,000 - adding 6,000 people. All the evidence we have from school enrollments, to taxes to all kinds of different measures indicate growth.

So what it appears to be and we were, of course, really worried about this was this is what happens when you take a census that starts the week after your big university says go home. And I'm very concerned about it. So we are pursuing all the kind of avenues that we can. There's a lot of places around the country that are concerned about this. But it's really important not just for for Democracy, and how we vote and set districts, but also for funding, a lot of funding follows these kind of census numbers. They also reported a bunch of vacant housing, more housing units than people, that's just not the reality on the ground. But we have to do our due diligence and homework to try to figure out what happened and what we can do about it.

READ MORE: Mayor Hamilton: Bloomington Census Numbers Are Not Accurate

Bloomington Annexation Map

Hren: City council public hearing on annexation concluded Wednesday, many people against annexation calling it taxation without representation, services they don’t need, more restrictions – a woman who has a llama, what did you take away from the hearing?

Hamilton: We had something in the order of 70 or 80 commenters. So that's out of about 14,000 people who are affected potentially by the annexation. So that it's that says, obviously, the vast majority of people did not weigh in on that. But we heard people who did not want the annexation for various purposes.

As a second big takeaway, there was a little bit of saying, well yes, annex this, but don't annex that, or there's a line you ought to change here or there. There were a few of those. And those are why it's important to have the hearings. And you know, I actually recommended we drop an area seven on the far north side based on a lot of the feedback, but the vast majority was not dramatically changed.

Most of these areas were long intended for annexation for many, many years. That's why the sewer system has been extended out this far for these places. And then as you know, for a long time the city didn't do annexation, and that's regrettable. We should have and we're kind of trying to play catch up.

Now the council will take up any amendments and then by September we hope and expect there'll be final votes on the ordinances.

Hren: County commissioners read a statement against all areas of annexation calling for voluntary annexation, they say they're also worried about funding county services and replacing an aging jail. What’s your response?

Hamilton: We work closely with the county commissioners, county council members, school corporation, solid waste district, library - all of those players.

My view is annexation makes the city stronger, it makes the county stronger, it makes the region stronger. And it makes our partners stronger. And there are some occasional impacts on on annual finances. We'll be a strong partner with the county in criminal justice reform that's long overdue. But annexation doesn't diminish the capacity of the county to do its work. Most of the county's money comes from city residents. And all of us want a very strong and effective county government.

Just to give one example, the county does have some reduction in revenue. But by our analysis, it looks like their per mile funding for how many streets they manage would go up after annexation rather than down. And we certainly look forward to working with them.

The problem is we have many thousands of acres that were done under the law that Indiana had which was you can extend city services in exchange for a waiver of remonstrance. Meaning basically, we will extend you services now for sewer and water, for example, and you can join the city later. You'll just agree that when it's time to join the city, you'll agree to join the city. That's in a way a voluntary transaction. Because if you don't want the sewers, you don't have to sign that waiver.

Hren: There’s a database on the city website to indicate if a resident has a waiver to remonstrate or petition if annexation is approved, but the city's website doesn’t follow the new 2019 law that invalidates some waivers. Is that correct? Why?

Hamilton: It was actually required by state law and a lot of circumstances to get those agreements. Because the theory is we want you to be in the city. We just may not want it immediately for various reasons. And the vast majority of these areas that we're proposing to annex were intended for annexation. Now the state took this step what we think is actually illegal and unconstitutional. You've heard that from us before and we hate to have to do that. But we were right the last time and we think they've illegally interfered with that agreement by saying, well, you can't enforce that agreement, even though we did our side of the bargain.

Hren: Isn’t that misleading though no matter what you think, to not follow the 2019 law and have those invalidated waivers listed?

Hamilton: I don't think it's missed - I mean, we're just sharing what the waivers are. There is a dispute about the effect of the law, but they're waivers. They're in existence, and we're just reporting what they are. I do think it'll ultimately probably take a court to unpack this. And regrettably, the state legislature has again taken very aggressive steps, in our view, illegal but certainly aggressive to try to stop a city annexation going forward.

And I have to say it's frustrating the feel of this kind of anti-urban, anti-municipality tenor up in the Statehouse, but we're going to continue to try to do the right thing for the city.

READ MORE: WFIU/WTIU News Bloomington Annexation Coverage

Hren: Will the city take the Indiana legislature and Gov. Holcomb back to court if annexation comes down to those waivers you think are unconstitutional?

Hamilton: If it comes to litigation, it's not clear that it would, but if it turns out to be that the status of a certain amount of waivers is a pivotal factor, it will probably end up in court somehow. I don't know exactly how, but we hope it won't come to that and that people understand this was a fair square deal.

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