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Indiana Supreme Court Rules Against Holcomb In Bloomington Annexation Dispute

Bloomington annexation map

(City of Bloomington)

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Indiana legislature overstepped its legal bounds in 2017, when it barred the City of Bloomington from annexing any part of Monroe County through 2022.

The Dec. 15 opinion from Justice Christopher Goff also stated that the city was within its right to bring declaratory action against Gov. Eric Holcomb in retaliation.

The Indiana General Assembly passed legislation in early 2017, codified in Indiana Code section 36-4-3-11.8 (also known as Section 11.8), that prohibited annexation action proposed in the first six months of 2017.

FROM 2017: Budget Change Puts Bloomington Annexation Plans On Chopping Block

Given that Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton had announced an annexation proposal for nearly 10,000 acres of Monroe County in February 2017, city officials claimed Section 11.8 unfairly targeted Bloomington. 

In April 2019, a Brown County judge ruled that Section 11.8 was unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling.

In the wake of the ruling, Hamilton said he’s frustrated by the delays and money spent to complete the annexation that was interrupted.

“We’re going to be figuring out what the next steps are, I just barely read the opinion we’ve got lawyers that need to weigh in, to look at what the options are moving forward," he said.

Hamilton said he began the annexation in 2017 because at that time it had been 12 years since Bloomington expanded its boundaries.

“Cities need to grow their boundaries to include urbanized areas, it’s now been 17 years, almost, since it’s taken so long to get through this," he said.

Goff wrote that the Indiana Supreme Court ultimately deemed Section 11.8 unconstitutional because "the legislature enacted a special law—one that targeted only Bloomington—when it could have enacted a law that applied generally throughout Indiana."

In a city news release, Bloomington Common Council President Steve Volan is quoted as saying, "The Mayor’s proposal for annexation obligated the Common Council to consider it in a process that by state law is required to take at least five months. Halfway through that process, and well before Council was able to complete a full analysis of the plan, the General Assembly unconstitutionally overrode existing state law.

“Council recognizes the strongly felt concerns of all involved, whether they live within the city’s current boundaries or not. The current Council is committed to the same fair, thorough, and critical vetting of the plan that the previous Council was conducting."

This story has been updated. Joe Hren contributed to this post.

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