Last day of the Bloomington annexation process – The B Square

The trial on the merits of Bloomington’s plan to annex two areas on the city’s west and southwest sides has completed its fourth day. Friday is the last day left on the trial calendar.

It now appears that the trial will be over by the end of the day on Friday.

The procedure is a judicial review, which was forced by Remonstrants when they reached the threshold of at least 51 percent of landowner signatures in Area 1A and Area 1B, but fell short of the 65 percent that would have stopped Bloomington’s annexation outright .

Towards the end of the day on Tuesday, when the pace of testimony from the city’s witnesses appeared to be slower than expected, Judge Nathan Nikirk raised the specter of a hearing on Saturday.

Wednesday’s morning was taken up with testimony from Eric Reedy of the Reedy Financial Group – about the legally required budget plan his company prepared in connection with the annexation. To the witness stand, Reedy dragged a large 600-page folder with dozens of tabs.

In attendance Wednesday afternoon were Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff, Bloomington Fire Chief Roger Kerr and Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson.

By early Thursday morning, the city had dropped its position. Lawyers for the landowners’ Remonstrants had succeeded in putting eleven different witnesses on the witness stand at the end of Thursday, so that a hearing on Saturday no longer seemed necessary.

William Beggs and Ryan Heeb are representing the landowners, along with local law firm Bunger & Robertson.

On Thursday morning, before calling witnesses, Heeb attempted to end the trial in favor of the landowners – only in Area 1A, not Area 1B. He filed a motion asking the judge to issue a type of summary judgment that would require no further evidence, testimony, or argument from the landowners so that he could rule in their favor. The motion was filed pursuant to Trial Rule 41B.

Heeb’s motion was filed based on what he alleged was Bloomington’s failure to meet the necessary burden under state annexation law to even get to the ultimate question that the judge would face at the end of the trial. had to answer: is the annexation “in the best condition”? interests of the owners of land in the area proposed for annexation”?

Under state law, one way for the city to meet some of its burden is to demonstrate at least one of the following: that the population density of the area to be annexed is at least three people per acre; 60 percent of the territory is subdivided; or the area is zoned for commercial, industrial or business use (CIB).

The city’s GIS specialist, Meghan Blair, had stated that the population of Area 1A is less than 3 people per hectare. Blair had attempted to analyze the percentage of residential subdivisions in Area 1A, but told the court she was unable to do so because the necessary information was not available. Finally, the percentage of land in Area 1A designated for CIB use is only 57.69 percent, according to Blair’s testimony.

That meant the city couldn’t use that part of the state law to meet its burden, Heeb said.

Heeb did not attempt to make the same motion for Area 1B. That’s because, according to Blair’s testimony, the population density of Area 1B is greater than 3 people per hectare.

Blair’s testimony Tuesday about Area 1B’s population density counted as news because the city’s FAQ on annexation, which she posted in 2021, showed Area 1B’s population to be less than 3 people per acre. Blair’s new estimated figure was based on the 2020 decennial census. The B Square came up with the same 3.28 people per hectare as the city’s GIS team, using a similar analytical technique.

Heeb’s movement depended on more than just population density, percentage of subdivided land, and CIB zoning of land in Area 1A.

Under state law, even if the city cannot meet the burdens related to population density, percentage of subdivided land and CIB zoning, the city can still meet the general condition for annexation – by showing that the area ‘needed and can be used’. by the municipality for its development in the reasonably near future.”

But Heeb referenced Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson’s testimony the day before when she indicated that Area 1A and Area 1B were not “necessary.”

Thomson’s testimony on the “necessity” of the annexation of Area 1A and Area 1B was cross-examined by Beggs. He asked Thomson if she remembered her testimony from her pre-trial deposition when she had indicated that Bloomington does not “need” Area 1A or Area 1B. Thomson told Beggs she remembered saying the city doesn’t need the areas for their tax base.

Beggs tracked down the transcript of Thomson’s preliminary statement, which he then read aloud. Based on the transcript, in response to a question about whether the city “needs” Area 1A and Area 1B, Thomson had said that it is not her position that the city “needs” the areas, but that they are already urbanized . water and sewer service there.

In the portion of the transcript that Beggs read, Thomson said Areas 1A and 1B were intended for annexation as long as she lived in Bloomington. The land already “behaves” as if it were part of the city of Bloomington, Thomson said in the transcript. In the transcript, Thomson indicated that her view of the country was not a “needs-based assessment.”

On Thursday morning, the city’s outside counsel, Stephen Unger of the law firm Bose McKinney & Evans, responded to Heeb’s motion. Unger and his Bose McKinney colleague Andrew McNeil have been in court every day.

Unger told Judge Nikirk that there are previous annexation cases for other cities in Indiana that establish how the law’s section on population density, percentage of subdivided land and CIB zoning should be applied. Unger told Nikirk that previous cases (case law) have shown that the relevant concept is ‘urbanization’ and that the evidence is overwhelming that Area 1A and Area 1B are in fact urbanized.

Nikirk denied Heeb’s motion.

Witnesses who testified on behalf of the landowners Thursday include at least eight owners of land in Area 1A or Area 1B, as well as former Bloomington City Councilwoman Susan Sandberg, Monroe County Assessor Judy Sharp, and Bloomington police union president Paul Post .

When she was a city councilor, Sandberg was one of three who voted against annexation in the fall of 2021.

Post appeared under a subpoena, which meant he had to be paid according to his union contract – by the city of Bloomington.

At the end of testimony on behalf of the Remonstrants, a 2020 city consultant report recommending adding sworn police officers — bringing the total to 121 — was still not officially included in the trial’s record. It has been brought up about half a dozen times in the first four days, but Nikirk has consistently ruled that if a witness quotes the Novak report, it is hearsay and cannot be admitted as testimony.

But Post did offer his own opinion that the city needs 120 officers. Post described the Bloomington Police Department’s workforce. There are 105 sworn officers in this year’s budget. But it currently employs only 86 people, a number that would drop to 85 the next day, Post said. Of those employed, only 73 are available to serve because they are on long-term disability, on military leave, on maternity leave, or for some other reason.

The basic argument the Remonstrants are trying to make goes something like this: Bloomington does not currently have enough police officers to meet the policing needs within the existing city limits, let alone a larger geographic area that would result from annexation.

On Thursday, Cheryl Sciscoe became the first landowner to take the witness stand. In response to a question from Heeb, legal advisor to the landowners, she stated that she lives on a fixed income. That prompted an objection from the city’s lawyers, which Nikirk ultimately supported, after some back and forth.

The reason witnesses weren’t allowed to talk about their income is because Indiana annexation law says the court may not consider landowners’ personal or business finances when determining whether annexation will have a “significant financial impact” on them. If the judge finds that there will be significant financial consequences for the landowners, that is a possible reason not to allow the annexation to proceed.

Heeb argued that because the prohibition on thinking about personal or business finances passes into the subsection of the law significant financial consequences about landowners, not in another paragraph about the best interest of landowners, a landowner’s personal finances could be taken into account when assessing interests. Whether the annexation is in the best interests of the landowners is the ultimate question for the judge to answer.

Nikirk was not convinced by Heeb’s argument.

Much of the landowner testimony fits his general pattern: the value of the services the city will provide will not be as high as the higher city taxes to be paid.

One of the services landowner Rhonda Gray said the Monroe County Highway Department already provided — better than the city of Bloomington on nearby streets — is road maintenance. She brought along a copy of a photo she had taken near her hometown, which shows a clear line where the city boundary runs. On the city side there are potholes, but on the side of the line maintained by Monroe County the sidewalk is smooth.

Gray’s testimony provided something of a counterpoint to the frequent observation by annexation supporters that the area to be annexed already looks so much like Bloomington that when you drive from Bloomington to the annexation areas, you don’t notice when you cross the border.

Waste collection was another service landowners were already fully satisfied with, as offered by Ava’s Waste Removal, a private hauler. The cost of collecting a 96-gallon garbage cart and a 96-gallon recycling cart comes to $21.75 per month, landowners said. That’s less than the $24 the city of Bloomington charges.

Monroe County Commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas are expected to take the witness stand Friday. They are both campaigning for re-election on a platform that includes their opposition to annexation.