Should Bloomington Be Using Your Money to Pay for Its Annexation Lawsuits?

By Peter Dorfman

Opponents of the City of Bloomington’s annexation of seven suburban areas have met the criteria to thwart that annexation in five of those areas, by gathering remonstrance petition signatures for more than 65% of property owners in those areas. In the two largest areas (Areas 1A and 1B), however, the matter will now proceed to litigation.

It will, but it shouldn’t.

The forced annexation, while legal under Indiana state law, is unnecessary and unjust. Majorities of the property owners in the areas to be annexed have expressed their opposition to being brought into the jurisdiction of a city government they didn’t elect, and to being subjected to new taxation in which they had no say (and won’t until 2027), in exchange for promised services they haven’t asked for and which many believe (based on documented prior experience) will never materialize anyway.

All of this has been said before. What hasn’t been discussed much is the cost of the Hamilton Administration’s litigation to enforce the annexation. Bloomingtonians who sympathize with the residents of the two remaining annexation areas should be asking: Where does the money come from to pay for that litigation?

Dissident Democrats will be inclined to support 2023 candidates for citywide office who oppose the city’s pursuit of litigation to enforce the annexation of the suburbs, and specifically the allocation of taxpayer funds to pay for that litigation.

The administration is likely to argue that attorneys already on the city’s payroll can pursue the lawsuits, so their services are essentially free. That’s true as far as it goes. City taxpayers might object to the use of their dollars to fund litigation they oppose, but that’s representative democracy — you never get a direct vote on specific uses of city money. You only get to vote, once every four years, on who you trust to decide what to do with your tax dollars. (A lot of damage can be done in four years.)

Annexation has already cost the taxpayers more than $1.2 million in consultants’ fees.

But that’s only part of the story. There are always additional costs in litigation, above and beyond attorneys’ fees. They include:

  • Filing fees.
  • Fees to serve documents to the individuals being sued.
  • Discovery — a sprawling process in which attorneys for both sides gather records and other evidence, identify and talk to witnesses, crawl through relevant documents and petition the opposing parties for information. Discovery gets expensive if the litigation drags on for months or years, and even more so if there are expert witnesses involved.

Needless to say, these extras represent a much heavier burden for the property owners defending themselves from the annexation than for the city. But they aren’t trivial for Bloomington taxpayers either; they won’t come out of the city attorney’s petty cash drawer. Funds have to be allocated, from a budget that covers more than attorneys’ time.

If you object to the litigation in the first place, you should object to the allocation of those funds.

As the city begins to turn its attention toward the 2023 citywide election, voters will be looking for commitments from candidates to help differentiate them and justify supporting (or opposing) them. Here’s one such point of differentiation to think about: Dissident Democrats will be inclined to support candidates who oppose the city’s pursuit of litigation to enforce the annexation of the suburbs, and specifically the allocation of taxpayer funds to pay for that litigation.

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