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Page last updated on February 4, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Mayor Hamilton's Remarks to City Council on Annexation

Good evening, and thank you for this opportunity to talk about the proposed annexations that will significantly chart the future course of our community.

This past week we hosted at City Hall six information sessions where we provided answers to individual property owners about how annexation would affect them, and recorded their comments on computers, note cards, or through a court reporter. I want to thank my staff for the many hours spent preparing for and attending those meetings, and the hundreds of area residents who were welcomed to City Hall, many for the first time; we deeply appreciate that they came to participate in this important civic exercise.

The goals for those meetings were equally to give and receive information. We were able to address many concerns and we learned much in return. Several City Council members were there to listen and learn. Thank you, Councilors, for your active participation.

Tonight we are asking you to adopt resolutions and a fiscal plan, and introducing annexation ordinances for your consideration over the next few months. I appreciate the chance to comment generally and also to address some common issues expressed during the two months since we first proposed that you consider annexation.

I will try to be concise in my comments, as I know many people here tonight want to be an active part of this process, which is absolutely as it should be. People care deeply about the future of this community and want a voice in that future. This is not an "us and them" issue; this is an "us and us" issue. The decisions made about our city boundaries will affect each of us, and future residents, whether in the city boundaries or outside them. All city residents are also County residents, and many many non-city but County residents work, shop, play and travel in and through the City. And I want explicitly to thank my county and township government colleagues for continuing our long-standing dialogue about how best to cooperate and deliver services to the people who pay our salaries and expect and trust we'll cooperate to be as efficient and effective as we can be.

Tonight I want to talk about why we are here, how we got here, and why I believe that annexation of each of the 9 proposed areas is the right path forward for all of us. Not that every detail is fixed or decided -- there is plenty of time to consider many details -- but that the big picture is the right path.

Let's take a deep breath, and start with the big question: Why are we proposing annexation? The answer is not a sound bite. It requires a thoughtful examination of the roles of county and city governments, the most efficient way to provide services to residents, the rights and responsibilities of the residents those governmental bodies are in place to serve, and the best way to pursue the long-term health and success of the community each of us loves and chooses to call home.

There is a separation of duties between city and county governments. For good reasons our forebears developed this system of governing, and it's why, 199 years later, it still exists and functions to our mutual benefit. City government is designed to support and serve developed, urbanized areas. It provides specific services for residents in developed areas: Public Works, among other things, provides and maintains streets and sidewalks and stop lights, animal control, snow removal and street cleaning. Sanitation - removal of solid waste and handling of recyclable materials. Police and Fire Departments - fundamentally keep our residents safe, from criminal activity and other threats to human well-being. Housing and Neighborhood Development (or HAND) - enforces codes that ensure safe and livable housing, and provides financial and other support to make neighborhoods places we want to live and raise our families. Planning and Transportation - manages appropriate development and multi-modal transportation options. Economic and Sustainable Development - encourages a healthy and vibrant business community and supports the arts and sustainable business practices throughout Bloomington. Information and Technology Services serves employees of the City and residents with low-barrier access to public information and, we hope soon, access to advanced broadband service that could play a central role in our community's economic prosperity. The Community and Family Resources Department provides access to programs and education that improve quality of life and celebrate the things that make our community unique. City of Bloomington Utilities provides safe, high-quality drinking water, sewer service and stormwater management. The Bloomington Transit system provides public transportation options at reasonable cost to many areas of the city, including door-to-door transport throughout the city for disabled residents and those with special needs. And our Parks and Recreation Department provides myriad opportunities for residents of all ages for fun, education, recreation and healthy living in more than 40 parks and miles of trails.

County and township government has its own set of responsibilities: among others, running our jail and court system, maintaining vital county records in the recorder's office, handling all county taxation in the auditor's office, maintaining county roads and all bridges in the City and County, managing public safety in the non-city areas of the County through the Sheriff's Department, addressing public health issues, and, through the townships, providing essential fire safety coverage beyond the reach of municipal fire and offering last resort aid to County residents in need. Some County government responsibilities like the courts, serve the entire county, many other services are generally designed to serve a subset of the county -- the rural, non-urbanized areas.

So part of what annexation does, through time, is assure that each governmental entity has, according to its design, the ability to provide the specific roles and responsibilities related to the overall nature of the areas they govern. It helps government efficiency.

I want to note here that both our County and City local governments are effective and efficient. We get a lot of bang for our tax buck here. In fact, our property tax rates are among the lowest in the state. When comparing the 20 most populous Indiana cities, I bet it's surprising to many to know that a resident in the City of Bloomington pays lower tax rates than residents of every other city except one. That is, we are 19th in property tax rates of those 20 large cities. And by the way, we are the lowest tax rate of the vast majority of surrounding cities and towns as well -- lower than Bedford, Columbus, Martinsville, Seymour, Franklin, and Ellettsville. The County itself also ranks extremely well, as 16th out of the 20 most populous Indiana counties. With lower tax rates than all of our neighboring counties: lower rates than Lawrence, Owen, Brown, Bartholomew, Greene, Morgan and Jackson.

These are encouraging and important statistics, and we can be proud of the work our local governmental bodies do together. And going forward, we must keep in mind the distinct and unique missions of the county and the city.

Annexation also allows us to manage and direct growth effectively. Our attractive environment and high quality of life bring people and business and educational institutions to our area. We have grown in both population and urbanized land use over time. Successful communities grow. Certainly it must be responsibly managed, but that growth is the sign of a thriving, vibrant community. That vibrancy is why so many of us choose to live here and why we must continue to be forward thinking and acting, just as those who provided vision and leadership before us.

Growth has caused the landscape of our community to evolve. Areas that were once undeveloped are now urbanized. What was once rural is now the sites of our homes, businesses and schools. As a community, we have changed and evolved. Some of what were once areas very appropriate for County government to serve directly -- which they've done well -- are now areas appropriate for City government to serve.

Let's look at our history to put this into context. The City of Bloomington has annexed dozens of times over our 199 year history. This is not a new concept. Over the last 12 years our county population has grown by 21 thousand and urbanization is spreading, but our municipal boundary has remained fixed. Looking at our history of annexation beginning in 1970, we've generally followed the urbanizing areas, as you can see, decade by decade up to the current proposal. In 1990 only 15% of the county's urbanized area was not in the city, but today nearly double that, 27% of the urbanized area is outside city boundaries. The annexations we are proposing would leave approximately 12% of our urbanized area outside the City of Bloomington - roughly the same proportion as the City's boundaries in 1990.

Of course it's important to note that some of the areas now proposed for annexation were identified as literally, "AREAS INTENDED FOR ANNEXATION," over a decade ago. And most importantly, residents who have lived here for some time are well aware of the "two mile fringe" - the orange areas that the City and County defined and assigned City zoning responsibilities for - The concept of the two mile fringe dates back 50 years to a 1967 ordinance assigning the city zoning responsibility, and continued with interlocal agreements in 1997 and 2007 - recognizing that the areas eventually likely would be part of the City. That cooperative zoning agreement was then allowed to lapse by the prior administration, which I believe was a mistake.

What would Bloomington's growth look like if we had not annexed in the past? If Arden Place were not in the city? Or Green Acres? Or Broadview? Or Renwick? Or Griffy Lake? Or Crestmont? Or the Stands? Or Whitehall Crossing? Or Arlington Valley……

What will it look like if we do not annex now? Without appropriate services being applied consistently throughout the urbanized areas, a patchwork of services and costs will emerge, some publicly provided and some provided by private entities, often at higher cost, and some not provided at all. Some substantially urbanized areas could attempt to incorporate themselves, leading to inefficient delivery of services, divided communities, and haphazard growth practices. This has happened in other communities to their detriment - think of the "region" in the northwest corner of Indiana, with some of the highest tax rates and deep rooted fiscal issues in the State. Think of Lafayette and West Lafayette, split into two communities. Or unannexed areas in the donut counties around Indianapolis - where tax rates in some of the unincorporated townships are higher than those paid by our City residents.

Growth has been successfully managed in the past and we are well positioned to do it again now. We have proposed an annexation process of nearly three years in duration, to work on the many fine details that will need to be addressed. Some people are concerned about fire protection services, some are concerned about utility services or zoning or regulations or open burning. Each concern is worthy of consideration and discussion. With annexation effective in 2020, City, County, and township governments will have plenty of time to work together collaboratively to decide how best to provide the services each governmental entity is charged with, transferring responsibility of some important services and building additional infrastructure to accommodate others, and doing it in the most efficient, appropriate and cost effective manner possible. Good specific conversations are already happening about fire services, for example, and traffic signals, and shared construction projects, and more. Our track record proves that with input from all concerned and with mutual cooperation, we can complete an annexation that will lay the groundwork for a successful and exciting future.

Let's be frank that expanding our city boundaries does also have small "p" political effects. It will mean that the people who live in significantly urbanized areas that lie just outside the municipal boundaries, and who benefit from many of the advantages of being in the City, will finally have a vote and a voice when it comes to important decisions that already affect them. It means that those residents will now have a direct voice in matters before our City Council and our dozens of City Boards and Commissions. Additional voices, different voices, in my view, will strengthen our city. It will also mean they have access to programs and services offered to City residents - like Housing and Neighborhood Development programs and sanitation services at lower rates than they pay now. Annexation will give those new residents of the City all the benefits, rights and responsibilities of where they often already work, play and do business. Yes, with increased services it will mean for many some increase in property taxes. We absolutely can work toward solutions for those to whom that would present an undue burden. And let me say clearly that annexation is not an effort to change the character of our neighborhoods - we value the diversity that each neighborhood offers its residents. Again, this is not a question of us and them. It is us and us. We are all a part of the same future, and we should all have the benefits, rights and responsibilities that create that future - together.

And that in the end is perhaps the most important issue. Are we one Bloomington or not? Are we going to continue to grow to include all the people who are part of our urbanized, evolving community, as we have done for 199 years, or are we not? Beyond efficiency of government, and managing growth, and political engagement, the question is shouldn't our community indeed be one community -- one diverse, varied, creative, active, energized, engaged, opinionated community?

We have real challenges before us, our wider regional community. The new I-69 corridor must be managed and zoned to achieve good outcomes. Our infrastructure is in need of improvements. We face serious social and health challenges. We need more and higher-paying jobs, and industry needs a workforce that is trained and ready to do the work that needs to be done. Our schools and our school children need our attention and support. We must meet the demands of an increasingly technologically sophisticated society.

We have a lot on our plates in the city, besides annexation, from the Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance, to affordable housing strategies, to growing our economy, to the Convention Center, the Trades District, Switchyard Park, our Bicentennial, Lake Monroe, city-wide fiber, and Local Food, and improving our Energy and Sustainability, and more. And nearly all of it involves collaborating with our friends in county government and beyond.

We in government cannot afford to duplicate services or inefficiently allocate our assets, be they human, economic or social. We must work together and do our assigned tasks to the best of our abilities, keeping in mind our shared goals of economic prosperity and domestic happiness.

Generations of our predecessors recognized the benefits of appropriate growth and change and so must we. Change is challenging. It can be difficult and complicated. But we have consistently risen to those challenges in a thoughtful and collaborative fashion. We have in the past, and we can and should do so going forward.

I strongly urge you to move this process forward tonight -- remembering we're still not even halfway through the formal period of review -- so we can continue to meet and discuss the proposed city boundaries, the challenges and opportunities for joint services, the fiscal pressures and opportunities. Let the robust dialogue continue over the next 3 months before any final vote in June.

Our community -- our county, our city, our region -- we have a very positive future together. I'm confident in a bright path ahead. I believe this annexation plan will strengthen our community economically -- it's good for business and job growth, and will strengthen us regionally. We need to keep moving forward and addressing all these issues, with transparency and good will. That has and will continue to characterize our approach. And I thank you sincerely for playing your positive role in that process as well. Thank you for your time and attention this evening.