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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to NOON EDITION on WFIU. I'm your host, Bob Zaltsberg, co-hosting with Sara Wittmeyer today. Sara is the news bureau chief at WFIU and WTIU. Today, we're talking about the city of Bloomington's potential annexation of almost 9,000 acres that are outside of the city limits at this time. Mayor Hamilton first proposed the annexation four years ago, and a legal battle with the state legislature stopped that process for a time. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Bloomington's favor in December of 2020, and the city restarted annexation plans in May of this year. Been a lot of public hearings about it, and the City Council is scheduled to take up the final plan in less than two weeks. We have four guests with us on the program today. Mayor John Hamilton of the city of Bloomington is here. Marty Hawk, a member of the Monroe County Council is with us. Susan Sandberg, at at-large member of the Bloomington City Council is with us and also Colby Wicker, president of a group called County Residents Against Annexation. If you want to join us today, if you have questions or comments, please send them to us at email@example.com. You can also follow us on Twitter and send us questions there at @NoonEdition. Well, I want to start with Mayor John Hamilton. We have talked about annexation before in the last four years. I'm going to ask you to sort of go back to the basics about annexation. It's been a pretty emotional time. A lot of people are opposed to it. Some people are certainly for it. But why did you propose such a large annexation plan, and what are the benefits of it?
>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, thanks, Bob and Sara. Nice to be with you again and all the listeners and fellow panelists. I'll just very briefly try to note in many ways, annexation is a very natural and kind of not always controversial but a very natural thing for a city to do. Bloomington began in 1818 - was a six-city-block-long city. And for hundreds of times in the 186 first years of our existence, we expanded our boundaries as people moved to the city from its very small beginnings. Through the years, the city boundaries grow to incorporate newly urbanized areas, if you will. County governments existed first, created by the state to provide a whole set of services. City and town governments grow up and expand because they're meant to provide the level of services for the more densely populated cities, and Bloomington did that for 185 years. And as you indicated in your setup, in 2004, basically, Bloomington stopped annexation for a period of time - unfortunately, from my perspective - and stopped the regular pattern of adjusting the boundaries to reflect an urbanized area. I'm kind of playing catch-up. We started that in 2017 and were rudely interrupted by - illegally - by the state legislature but have picked that back up. It is a larger-than-average annexation because we're playing that catch-up. And I'll just stop - by ending, you asked what's the purpose or what - why does it - what's the meaning and helpfulness of it? It's basically cities exist in order to provide a level of services that reflects a denser population and a growing population, whether that's sanitation services or the kind of street infrastructure you need or the parks department or water, sewer services, planning, transit. You know, when people live in communities like cities, they have higher needs, and governments are created to provide those needs. So this is just kind of a right sizing of the city. I know it's stressful and controversial in some ways because people - we haven't done it for 17 years. But it's very natural part of what cities all across the state and the country do.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I want to bring Marty Hawk in. Marty has been a longtime member of the Monroe County Council. The county council is not quite as supportive of this as the mayor, so why, Marty, is this not, as the mayor said, just a natural thing to do and something that would bring a lot of benefits to people?
>>MARTY HAWK: Now, first of all, I want to make it clear that whether you live in the city of Bloomington or out of the city of Bloomington, we are all Monroe County residents. We're in this together. And why this is different annexation now than it had been all of those years before is - it's kind of long, drawn-out, so I'll try to make it quick. Remember when the state said that we had to take our assessed value to what would be the market value. So we've seen that market value really grow and grow. And so every time you add a tax rate on top of that higher assessed value, that is going to cause or could cause much higher taxes in addition to which they put in place a circuit breaker that said if anyone reached a certain point of taxes, they no longer had to pay that. And then communities throughout we're beginning to see if they get the annexation, it was going to cause a great loss to their library, to the school, to other units as well. And so that slowed down annexation throughout the state because people do not want to hurt their school system, and this particular one is estimated to be about 500,000 to the Monroe County school system has well as over 200,000 to the library. A lot of - now, the school system does not get income tax, but they do get property tax, so all that'll be tied to the circuit breaker. But I do think that we all love this community. We want to thrive together. We want to grow together, and we want the very best possible life for the people who live within Monroe county. So we are listening to our residents, listening to their concerns, and they simply are very concerned about what they believe is about to happen to their property.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And just to clarify just a little bit, I mean you are an expert in what happens with state taxes with the circuit breakers and all that, but essentially, you're saying that your concerns are about what it would do to individual taxes and then what it would take away, perhaps, from certain units that are outside the city. Is that correct?
>>MARTY HAWK: Absolutely.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK.
>>MARTY HAWK: We hear many times from our older residents, people who are living on fixed incomes, they're living in maybe Highland Village or Van Buren Park or in other neighborhoods where they've been living there for maybe 40 years, they no longer are able to reach out and get that 65, over 65 circuit breaker where they wouldn't have to pay more than 2% a year because of this major growth in assessed value having to do with market value. We all know how property just absolutely went through the roof and houses flying off the shelf and while they're not making any more money as a retired person and their property is suddenly worth more, which makes them them subject to a much higher tax. Now, we're talking that is their grocery money. That's money for them to get their medicines to stay alive. I believe that we as elected officials, all of us, want to make sure that we do not hurt that population. And in addition to which, when we're talking about affordable housing, you add that tax, that higher tax, onto all of these properties out there. Then when someone goes to try to buy a house, they have to qualify, you know, not just for principal interest but also for those high taxes and insurance. That will really hurt affordability for that entire area.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. I'm going to let - I'll let the mayor respond to that in just a few minutes. I want to get to our other two guests on - Colby Wicker, president of the County Residents Against Annexation. Why did you start such a group?
>>COLBY WICKER: I started such a group because I've been working with the Van Buren Township trustee Rita Barrow, and she really got me interested in this issue. And I've found that there are many real people who will be forced to operate a budget with less money in their pocket and depend on services with reduced budgets, and I have just begun to ask myself, and who will this help? I know that it will hurt real people, but I don't know who this will truly help. And I want to make one thing clear. I don't think this is a political issue. I think this is a question of what people, of how people will be able to operate and be able to live and thrive within this community. It's not a question of political alliance. It's a question of facts and of budgets and of numbers. And that's what I'm really focused on.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. And, Susan Sandberg, you're on the city council. The city council will be taking this up. you're well versed on this issue. Just give me your overall views. I mean, I think the council has been somewhat supportive, although you have made some adjustments. What do you think is going to happen when it comes before the council?
>>SUSAN SANDBERG: Yes. Thank you, Bob. I have, of course, been an at-large council member since 2007, so this is my very first time in having to be one of nine that has the very important vote ahead of us on September the 15. And what I have come to appreciate in this long arduous and emotional process is that I think annexation should be done gradually, incrementally, you know, and more collaboratively to ensure the goodwill of the governed. And I do listen. I have listened. I have learned. I have taken every opportunity to to do the research that is required of us to make this important decision. I will say that I support the idea of annexation. It is a legal process. And I want to give kudos to our legal staff, led by Philip Aguthrie and Mike Rooker, who successfully led the effort when the lawsuit came about. I feel very strongly in home rule and I feel that many times the Indiana General Assembly will interfere with a city's right to govern their city the way that the values of their community lies. And so when we first began the whole process of annexation, one of the first things that my council colleagues and myself were hoping to do was to sit down with our county colleagues to try to figure out what made sense about this large proposal, where we could pare it back, and then, of course, that whole process got interrupted. And here we are again, bringing it forward again, and I just will say I have been listening. I - my hope would be to pare it back a little bit more and make it a little bit more surgically precise in who we exclude and who we include, and that has not been a simple process. It has been very, very difficult.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to go to - back to Mayor Hamilton, and then I know Sara Wittmeyer has a question - we're already - we're starting to get questions from the community as well. But Mayor Hamilton, I want you to address the tax issue that council member Hawk brought up, and also to, you know, any other issues about, you know, the importance of this.
>>JOHN HAMILTON: Sure. Thanks so much. And, look, I think, if we could all agree - many of us would, I think, agree on the value of more fiscal home rule. Some of the concerns that council member Hawk raised I completely concur with - we ought to go to the state and say, why don't you let us manage our our fiscal situation directly here at home? The circuit breaker impact, the sharing among different entities - you know, we've worked very closely with the school corporation and the library and they're not against this annexation. They - we've worked very collaboratively. It's a very manageable approach. But I think it would be great if we could go and try to convince the legislature to give us a little more leeway to manage our local finances, as council member Sandberg said. I don't - I think, unfortunately, the legislature kind of wants to keep its thumb on city finances and local finances in ways that do cause some of the difficulties. But I would just point out that that's something we've managed before and we'll continue to manage. Affordable housing, we actually believe, will be substantially improved. We'll be able to help protect renters like we do inside the city to make sure they have safe and habitable apartments and a lot of good work like that. And I would just note as well, you know, we've - we have had many, many meetings, including with council member Hawk's peers on the County Council - which has not taken any official position against this, by the way. So we're working very closely with them. The impacts would hit, financially, not until 2025 and 2026 and not fully until 2027. So there's a lot of time to manage any challenges there are and we look forward to doing that together. And I agree with - in principle, with the idea that annexation ideally happens in an incremental way, agreeing with the council member - city council member Sandberg. The problem is, under the current laws, if we don't catch up - given that we haven't done that incremental annexation over the last 15 - 18 years - if we don't catch up, we actually cannot catch up because you have to have a contiguous area to choose to join. And if we have a bunch of developed areas between the new developed areas that want to join and say, OK, we're ready to do our little 12 acres or 20 acres or whatever, you legally cannot do it. So the catch-up is pretty important to be able to do what I think we'll be able to do, which is very incremental annexation once we get through this catch-up annexation.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Marty, you want to respond?
>>MARTY HAWK: Yes. What - I wanted to make sure that what makes our county a great deal different than many counties is there's so much of our revenue we count on for - from income tax, much more than we ever had in the past. A lot of that has to do with our community being successful, but also because the state is not holding back so much money in the trust fund. And so over the last - what? - four years, we've been getting a lot more in our income tax. Why does that make us different from many other counties? That's because we are controlled by an income tax council that is different from other counties. There's only like five or six of us - counties in the 90-some counties that have the income tax council controlled by the city. That means that the city has full control of having to do tied to population. And so they could go ahead and pass a higher income tax, and that means that we are - doesn't matter, we could be in Statesville or in Harrisburg or Unionvillle - we are all paying into one big pot of money. So we are helping pay for the city's - some of the city's services as well because that comes back into one big pot of money and gets distributed out then depending upon how much that all the units taxing levies are. So when the city's taxing levy goes way up, they are going to get a great deal more of the income tax. And that means that what we don't - it's not that we would lose property tax money to operate, we would be losing income tax money to operate, including our public safety money. And in the meantime, the people who are paying into this income tax don't get to vote for the people who put it into place or even for the - how it's going to be spent. So I find it - yes, it's important that we have local home rule, but I think everybody should have representation on how their taxes are to be spent, and I believe most of us would agree to that. And somehow or the other we just got in this very strange situation with the city council members. I don't think that they would like it that way - that they have to put in place a tax that they think is best for the city and yet they're collecting it from throughout the county.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sara?
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I want to follow up with you, Marty. We got a comment that I - it ties in to what you're saying. The person writes, as a current city resident, I'm very much in favor of the proposed annexation. I suspect 90% of those being annexed use city services daily and yet pay nothing for our services. Every city resident should be in favor of including these suburbs in our tax base. Can you just, I guess, react to that?
>>MARTY HAWK: Well certainly. As I just said, we pay, whether you live in Stinesville and work in Owen county, your income is taxed if you live in Monroe County and it goes into one pot. So, yes, we are helping to pay for the city's services. I think that it is a very rare person who believes, in the city or out of the city, that this is a good idea. It just isn't. And remember, the county provides - we take care of every bridge in this county unless it's, you know, a state bridge or something. So even if it's in the city, the county is paying for that. Now, that's - everybody that lives in the city is also paying county taxes, but those dollars - the bridge fund dollars - that's taxed throughout the county. And yet, if we lose dollars in other ways, then how are we going to provide that safety for all the bridges? And we are required to provide all the services for the jail, which we've been told we're going to just something about that jail. So unless somebody wants everyone to come up with another brand new tax to smack you with, we're going to figure out how to make this work and work together. And I think that we have the ability to do that if we want to.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I want to give our contact information again and then, Sara, if you have a follow up, go ahead. But I want to give our contact information - @noonedition - if you're following us on Twitter, you can send us questions there, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Sara, do you have a follow-up?
>>SARA WITTMEYER: We've got a question for Mayor Hamilton. This is from Susan and she says, please provide a yes or no answer to the following question. Do you support the grandfathering in of pre-annexation property tax rates so that low and fixed-income county residents slated for annexation would be able to afford to stay in their homes?
>>JOHN HAMILTON: I do not support a grandfathering, but I absolutely support a serious effort - and we would fully be part of that - to make sure everybody can stay in their home. Let me just just explain that, under Indiana state law - and councilor Hawk mentioned this a little bit - under Indiana state law, if you're a senior citizen and you have a relatively low-cost house - not a high end-house - and you have a relatively modest income, you're protected from your tax - your property taxes going up more than 2% in a year. And I would support - as was suggested, I think it would make sense for the state legislature to look at adjusting those levels to make sure we protect people. We absolutely support that. But look, let me just back up a second if I can because we do want to protect senior citizens, as I mentioned - but let me just back up on the income taxes. Income taxes are established by the state. I - if we could get local home rule and the state letting - let Bloomington put our own tax in place, that would be fine. But we don't. It's county-wide. It's set up by a shared income tax council that decides this together on that. And people should know, it's kind of surprising to most people that the Monroe County income tax is the lowest income tax of all of our surrounding counties. Anybody - we have very low taxes in Monroe County, both income tax and property tax amounts. And absolutely are in favor of dealing with any impacts of this. It's worth noting, relative to the previous question, that looking at our parks department, for example - an award-winning gold amazing parks department, and some of the data shows about 45% of the people who are using the parks programs, enjoying the parks - and we love people enjoying the parks. But 45% of them are are not in the city. It is the city residents who are paying the taxes that is making Switchyard Park possible and Ryan Park and the pools and all of that stuff, which is great. But I think part of this is the natural growth of cities to make sure all the people who live in and around the community are part of the community that votes on deciding things and that participates in the future. And again, that's a very natural thing. We look forward to working with all our partners to make it work well. And I totally agree with Marty, we want a successful county. Most of the county revenues come from city residents paying the county taxes, which is as it should be. And we both want to succeed, the city and the county, and I think we're in very good shape to do that.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: City council member Susan Sandberg, I think that - you said that you're in favor of - you know, of annexation, you know, as a public policy. How can we - what do you think we can do to maybe bridge this gap that we have now where there are some people that are really pretty animated against it, as council member Hawk said, but yet really start to do annexation the way that annexation has been designed to be done?
>>SUSAN SANDBERG: Good question. And, of course, in an ideal world, my hope would be we could be a lot more precise in carving out the territories that are most likely to be annexed, and appropriately so. We have this kind of urban-rural divide that those of us who have been involved in outreach with the various residents outside of our city boundaries - you know, we have just major concerns about their cost of living and how they want to live. And not everybody wants to be urban and I have great respect for that. I think when we think about ourselves as members of Monroe County as well as Monroe County being, you know, a big part of what happens at the city, we have to be mindful that not everybody wants to be urbanized, nor should we. Our environmental stewardship, you know, requires us to be responsible when it comes to our forests and our agriculture and our green space. And I want to be mindful of that and I wish we could be more surgical. As Mayor Hamilton has already said, our hands are tied somewhat with the whole issue of contiguity. Council just recently excluded an area that we felt should have been excluded, and that was Edgewood Hills, but I also felt that Heritage Woods should've been excluded as well but, because of the continuity issue, we weren't able to do that for them. So there are some real obstacles for us doing this, in my mind, in a more responsible fashion. So these are not easy decisions that we're going to be faced with and I've already been on record with the HT's saying I've lost sleep over this, and I have and I probably will continue to do so right up until September the 15.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: What is the council actually able to do? I mean, you can't add area to be annexed, but you can create an annexation plan that wouldn't have everything that Mayor Hamilton has proposed, is that correct?
>>SUSAN SANDBERG: Right, that is correct. But again, there are rules that we have to be - abide by with respect to that, and that makes it very, very difficult. Now, with regard to the waivers, if there are areas that have already agreed to - you know, are contracted by because they are already receiving city services, that, in my mind, is a completely different animal from areas who do not have signed those waivers and who are very adamant that they do not wish to be a part of the urbanization goals or plans that the city may have for them. And as an elected official in the city of Bloomington, of course, I represent the residents of Bloomington, what's in their best interest? But I'm also future-thinking enough to realize that, whether I'm on this council or not, by the time this annexation proposal kicks in, these individuals who are upset and who are coming to us and begging us to listen to their concerns, they will be perhaps citizens of Bloomington that the council, at that time, will have to be representative of. And so there are just so many complications to this that makes me wish we did have more ability to pare it down, make it a little bit smaller than the footprint currently is with respect to those areas who wish to remain more urban.
>>COLBY WICKER: Colby Wicker, I want to ask you to talk about this whole concept of annexation. You are in this organization - County Residents Against Annexation - and that was - that organization started specifically because of what's going on now in Monroe County. But can you see areas that would be appropriate for annexation? Do you see annexation as a tool that could be used, I mean, if not for the city of Bloomington, for the town of Ellettsville or any other city?
>>COLBY WICKER: Sure. And I think our name can be a little misleading. We are against this annexation plan as it currently stands. But I've been saying since the very beginning that all annexation is not bad and there are times in which annexation can be a good thing for certain communities, and I think that the example of Ellettsville is a very, very good one. There are many people who live in close proximity to Ellettsville who would like to be a part of that city. But when you go out and you knock on doors and you talk to people who are in this current annexation plan as we're talking about here with Bloomington, they do not want to be a part of this city. And I would like to note too that, in the vast majority of other states, they have what's called voluntary annexation where they go and they put the issue on a ballot and they say, do you want to be a part of the city of Bloomington? And people vote yes or no on it. And that's not the way that it is here and the state legislature has set up a system in which it is very hard to stop an annexation once it gets going. And so we are urging the city council to vote no on this. But if they decide to go through, we are able and we are willing to fight to the very end to reach 65% of people within the annexation area and stop it that way as well.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Colby, can you explain that - this whole remonstrance process and what that is and what residents really can do if they want to fight this?
>>COLBY WICKER: Yes, I'm very, very happy to. And I'd like to start off and tell anybody, if they are interested in getting involved with our organization, they can send an email to email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. Or they can give a phone call to 812-361-4424. And so - and to explain the remonstration process, the state legislature has set up a system in which, once the city council votes and, if they vote yes on it, each annexation area is sort of its own beast. So if we're talking about annexation area two, for example, we would need to get to 65% of the residents there who do not have valid waivers - and the state law right now says, if they have signed a waiver more than 15 years ago, then the waivers are - they are no longer valid. And what that means - they are going to be able to sign a remonstrance form and send that off to the auditor's office and their signature will count to get us to that 65%. If we can get to 65% of those people, then the annexation is stopped in its tracks and is not allowed to go through. And there are similar other caps as well. If we can get to, I believe, 75% of the land and 80% - or 80% of the value - if we hit any one of those three numbers, then that means that the annexation will be stopped. And just one quick note on waivers, people make it sound like a person, when they bought their house, they oftentimes made that decision to sign and say, yes, I'll be a part of the city if they want to take me in. But that's oftentimes not the case. A contractor often comes in and they are - buy land that they're going to put 100 houses on and, in one fell swoop with one signature, they sign away all those peoples' rights and I don't believe that that should be the case, and that is why the state legislature put forward this law that has limited that to only say that that waiver is only valid for 15 years. And we are encouraging every single person who is in the annexation area to go ahead and send in a remonstrance. And if you do have a valid waiver, then the - that's the auditor's office to keep that off and that's no water off your back.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mayor Hamilton, I wanted you to address the waiver issue and also address the fact that - I know that the city is not so certain that it wouldn't challenge that 2019 law in court about waivers.
>>JOHN HAMILTON: Right. Right. Well, thank you. And look, in a way, annexation shouldn't be political. It really is just about cities and their surrounding areas kind of managing services, et cetera. But I do think it's important to note that it is very political in our state. We have a very conservative Republican legislature that does a lot of things to make it difficult for municipalities which tend to be democratic, and particularly Bloomington very democratic, that they don't want to let cities grow in a lot of ways, and that can be a problem. That's why we saw the unconstitutional intervention and the unbelievable intervention in our annexation in 2017, illegally putting in the budget to stopping one community's annexation, which the Supreme Court said was illegal. So there's a lot of politics here and that's - I get that. That's OK. We have some people who don't want to be part of a city council because they don't agree with politics, and I get that. That's appropriate. I actually think our city would be better if we had kind of inclusion of all that. But on the waivers, it's really important to understand what this is. Waivers - and they're - actually, the state requires us to get waivers when we extend sewer services. What happens is a group of people, either a developer, as mentioned, or a group of residents say, we want to get sewers. We're densely developed, we - our septic systems don't make sense, they're expensive, they're failing, they don't protect the environment, so we should be on the sewer system. We agree with that. Typically, what happens is the sewer system says, we will extend our sewers to you and current ratepayers will pay for that pipe to get a little farther out and we'll expand our system to do that. Current ratepayers - city residents pay for that. And in agreement for us extending the sewers and providing you and you pay the monthly service and you pay the connection fee and, once you're on, you pay your fair share - but in agreement for putting the sewers in, you agree that, when it's time to be part of the city, you will be part of the city. That's what waivers are about. They're sewer waivers, and there are thousands of them all around Bloomington outside the city limits. And what the state legislature did in 2019 was very - in our view, illegally, because this was a contract - they said, well, if the sewers waivers are over 15 years old, they don't count anymore. Now, we think that's an illegal interruption in contracts, again, trying to disrupt what was a fair deal. And yes, there are subsequent buyers of homes that don't know that that waiver exists. It is in their property deed, so they should know it. But sometimes people do it and we get that. But it was a contract just like you have a contract that the roads get built or other things get built with it. So it's really important to note that. And so the voluntary - what we can do going forward and we will do going forward, I think, is have voluntary waivers, as discussed. So if you want sewers, we won't do a waiver anymore. Maybe what we'll do is say, well, we'll get sewers when you join the city. And that's what a lot of places do around the country as the voluntary annexation, it's just we did it with waivers in Indiana, state legislature pulled the rug out and changed the rules, so we'll have to approach it differently in the future. Again, it's just kind of a transition to get to where we need to get so the city can provide the services that people should have for sanitation and parks and all those kinds of things.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Council member Marty Hawk, I believe you have some things that you want to respond to.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yes, having to do with the waivers. I think that, if the city does choose to take this to court and doesn't agree that the state law - and remember, the auditor has said that she will honor that state law. So it will be up to her to say, yes, this waiver is valid or, no, it is not. I mean, most contracts - of course, that's - maybe I'm just thinking of real estate contracts. But most contracts would have a beginning date and an ending date. And so I do believe that it might end up being a legal question for the courts to answer. But certainly, whether you have a waiver on your property or you do not, if you are supposed to be - if it looks like as if you're going to be annexed, you have every right to go sign a remonstrance, work that out through the county, get that signed if that's your choice. I certainly hope that, at some point in time, they'll allow those who remonstrances to be signed virtually or, you know, through some other method other than having to go to the courthouse because so many of these people are senior citizens and parking is not so easy 'round the courthouse. But indeed, we understand that, if someone from the city should say, well, we'll just take away all those sewer services for all the people that we put in place 40 years ago and not my fault they don't remember - well, we'll just have to see what - if the public would like that kind of attitude. I believe that we can learn to work together better than this and I just hope that we will. I was very impressed by council member Rollo when he said that he wanted to listen to the people who were being proposed to be annexed and that gave me great hope.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Council member Hawk, just along those lines, you know, the city has said - or has - certainly has provided sewer service to people who said they wanted the sewer service and that they would - they signed a waiver at some point saying we want the sewer service so we would like, you know - if you provide it, we'll join the city when it's our time to join the city and we sign this waiver. I mean, why wouldn't the city be within its rights to stop having sewer service provided to those people if, you know, the city residents are paying for that sewer service now? Why wouldn't the city be within its rights to stop sewer service to people who are not going to be in the city any longer?
>>MARTY HAWK: That's a great question and one that - I would like to make certain that people understand that some of these waivers were signed - like Van Buren Park - I think it was signed when that - first Van Buren Park was first being put together. Many of those waivers were not recorded, so that - and that was - I understand that last go 'round on this, boxes after boxes of things to be recorded were taken into the recorder's office. Well, if you've bought something, you know, Indiana's called a race state. It's whoever gets a recording down first before whatever happens. So, I mean, this is still another part of the legal question. If someone accepts property and no place is it recorded as a part of their property that it has a waiver on there, then is that legal? Did they - did the city actually get every one of those waivers recorded in a timely fashion? So, yes, we've had - we understand that people receiving sewer services - they're paying for that. You know, it isn't like as if they're not paying a bill. And also, when those things were put in place, the developers are the ones who paid to put it in place. So these are things that we can work out, we can work this out together. And if everyone is reasonable, I think we will.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. We have about 10 minutes to go in the program, so if you have a question you want us to try to get to, you can find us on Twitter at @noonedition. You can also send us email - email@example.com. I want to go back to the mayor. Mayor Hamilton, we had a question come in from Eric who says annexed residents will be paying city taxes for at least a few years before they will officially be able to vote for the office of mayor or the members of the city council. Why can't you delay the annexation effective date until 2027, when all the people paying city taxes would get to have a say in city elections? Alternatively, why not move the annexation date up to 2023?
>>JOHN HAMILTON: That's a great question. Again, state law is very explicit about how - what the window is to do annexation. And, of course, the state messed up our timing back in 2017. It took us a few years to get through the courts. But we only have a certain window you can make it effective. I would say trying to do it really fast, like within a year which is what you'd need to do, would cause other issues. There are transition issues. We want to work closely with all the parties to make sure this goes smoothly, and that's important. But let me just note that, in fact, the annexation, if it's effective January 2024 - which is the current provision - the taxes don't get paid - the first change in taxes would be in May of 2025. So that's, first of all, worth noting that your property taxes won't change until May of 2025, which is two years - 24 months - before your first vote for a council member or mayor or whomever you want to vote for in the city election in 2027. So it's a two-year change. But maybe significantly also to note that your income taxes don't actually change until 2026 and 2027. So there's really a phase-in. And there's no perfect answer to this, but this is really the best way we can do it, the best we can do through the state's requirements of the window that you can make it effective. You can't wait more than three years. That's illegal under state law.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Susan Stamberg, do you want to weigh in on this?
>>SUSAN SANDBERG: Well, again, complications all around us, but one of the topics that we haven't really explored is the fact that growth costs. And with respect to the city's ramping up to be able to include the newly-annexed areas, that is a conversation that we need to have as well because it is extremely important, in my mind, as a representative of the city, that our services have to be a priority in our budgeting and our being able to deliver to our residents, whether they are currently in the city's boundaries or about to be annexed. And this is probably a topic for another day.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, I know one of the issues that has come up is the issue of police protection. I know some - there are some members of the Bloomington Police Department - I won't say it's a department-wide sentiment or anything like that, but I have read that some members have talked about how they don't think that the annexation - that their police protection and the police budget will be able to keep up with annexation. John - Mayor Hamilton, can you respond?
>>JOHN HAMILTON: Sure. You know, absolutely, we're committed to growing and evolving and developing our police department, our public safety efforts overall. That's a - that's - with or without annexation, that's - there's a lot going on in that front. There's been changes in police departments. We've added social workers and non-sworn officers. We're investing in sworn officers in new ways, and that will continue. Annexation will mean we can - give us time. If we know that we're going to pick up certain areas, it gives us several years to grow. Of course, I'd also note that areas that the city police pick up are areas that the sheriff gives up, if you will. So if this annexation goes through, that's about a 25 or 30% reduction in population that the sheriff department would have jurisdiction over. So there's a relative growth and change in that and we'll be working closely with city council - I know council member Sandberg cares very deeply about this - and we'll work very closely to make sure we do that most fundamental of city services.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Colby Wicker, you had your hand up. You have the - have some comments for this?
>>COLBY WICKER: Yes, please. Thank you. I would like to note that I've talked with many of the city police officers and a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police and I think that, as Bob points out, many of them are against this proposal. And I think that the number - I think that some numbers will really point out why. As we stand right now, 93 - and I'm sorry, these numbers are from the beginning of August, so they're about a month and a half off, but I don't think things have changed that much since the beginning of August. Ninety-three out of 100 budget officers are employed right now at the moment, and the city commissioned a 2019 study that stated, for the area that they had in 2019, they needed 121 officers then to keep up with all the services that needed to be provided. And if we use those same metrics and expound from that, that would mean that we would need 146 officers to protect the area if the annexation plan goes through. I'd like to note too that the national average of officers in a city is 1.6 per 1,000 residents, so that would be an even higher number of 160 officers. And as the mayor pointed out, the county sheriff will give up some of their high-volume areas - nine out of the 10 of the most high-volume areas within the county will now be under the protection of the Bloomington Police Department. And I truly believe that the people who serve there are great public servants, but we need many, many more of them to be able to service those areas. And we're having a hard time getting anybody to want to go there because of poor pay that's not competitive, there are some times where officers are working 17-hour days. And so it's no surprise that a lot of officers are not wanting to come to Bloomington to be a police officer.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Mayor Hamilton?
>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, I appreciate, Colby, your reciting statistics about that. I care very deeply. I'm incredibly proud of our Bloomington Police Department. We have one of the best police departments in the state, if not the country - very professional, highly trained, exceptional people and our standards are very high. We are committed - those numbers that you're sharing are - can be kind of thrown around by people. It's quite a bit more complicated than that. But the fundamental point, with or without annexation, Bloomington is committed to having and continuing to have one of the best police departments. There are challenges at that, as people have seen - the public challenges to police departments. We're evolving dramatically and very, very well - incredibly proud of our police department - and we'll do what needs to be done to provide those services. And I do think it's important to note that areas like Wal-Mart, which is one of the highest uses of police, or dense areas around the city - police departments are designed to provide the kind of services and give the kind of responses people need. Just to give you an example, right now, typically - you throw large numbers around, but typically in Bloomington there are eight or nine officers on-duty at any given moment - sworn officers. In the county, it's probably two or three. So that's the kind of level we want to keep continuing. That may adjust as we get more people. But the large 90 numbers and 70 and 100 and all - it's really making sure that we have the officers on duty at every hour of the day, and that's that smaller eight to nine - 10 to 11 officers that we'll make sure we have to provide the kind of services that our community wants.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Marty, I think you have a comment you want to make.
>>MARTY HAWK: Yes. Of course, when the city is losing police officers, I really believe it has more to do than just the salaries. But, you know, we all work at to be able to take money home to provide for our family budget. And so it's reasonable to expect those dedicated law enforcement officers to be going where they can make the money to take care of their families. We've had a lot of discussion about - in the past year where the law enforcement did not feel appreciated or they felt as though there were many who did not understand how hard they were working and what they have been up against. And I really believe, if we do not have a safe and civil community, then it will be difficult for us to be able to grow the jobs here that we want to so that our families will be able to have the kind of benefit that we hope that they all will have, and that is to feel safe in their homes and to be able to enjoy, once again, being able to go downtown and enjoy the restaurants and so forth when that time is right. So that is a very big question for certain.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. You know, I'm tempted to throw out the idea that maybe the city and county police departments should merge in some way, but I'm not going to do that because we'd spend about three hours talking about that. I want to have the last minute and a half or so to Susan Sandberg, city council member. She's fretting about this. She's worried about this. This is keeping her up at night. Susan, what can we expect from the council in the next couple weeks?
>>SUSAN SANDBERG: Well, again, I am one of nine on the Bloomington City Council. I always say that. And I agree with my colleague, council member Rollo, there is merit in listening to the will of those that we hope to govern, and that includes those that are currently in our jurisdiction as well as those who perhaps are about to be annexed. And we all take that job extremely seriously. These are not going to be easy decisions that we have in front of us. I am concerned about people who are on fixed incomes. I am concerned about housing affordability. I am concerned about the costs of growth and our ability to deliver public services. And so on we go and wish us luck on September 15.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I want to thank all of you for your concerns and for your leadership on this issue no matter how you're coming on it. So Mayor John Hamilton, Marty Hawk from the county council, Susan Sandberg from the city council, and Colby Wicker from County Residents Against Annexation. For my co-host Sara Wittmeyer, for producers Holden Abshier and Bente Bouthier and for engineer John Bailey, I'm Bob Zaltsberg, thanks for listening to NOON EDITION.
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