Abbott signs bill limiting annexation powers of cities

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 6, which requires cities in large counties to receive voter approval before annexing new areas, one of his top 20 priorities for the special legislative session.

“I’m proud to sign legislation ending forced annexation practices, which is nothing more than a form of taxation without representation, and I thank the Legislature for their attention to this important issue during the special session,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday.

Abbott’s signature was welcomed by bill proponents, including many in communities in Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdictions, who had been anxiously awaiting a resolution since an earlier version of the bill died in the Senate during the regular session.

“When this bill was filibustered on the last day of the regular session, I said it wasn’t over yet and the will of the people will ultimately be victorious,” Sen. Donna Campbell, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement Sunday. “Today is that day. All Texans now have a say in the annexation process and determining who governs them.”

Officials from Austin, San Antonio and other Texas cities had pushed back against the bill, saying it would limit their ability to expand.

‘A long time coming’

Shelley Palmer, president of Wells Branch MUD, who stressed that she spoke on her own behalf, not the board’s, said that when the final Senate vote happened, sending the bill to Abbott’s desk, she said she “wanted to high five Wells Branch.”

“It was a long time coming,” Palmer said. “(The bill) is something that says we get to choose, whenever (annexation) comes. And our assumption is that it will come sooner or later … They’re (city officials) kind of forced to be more trying to entice us as opposed to taking us over.”

Alton Moore, chairman of the Hudson Bend Incorporation Committee, said he and many fellow community members are pleased that the bill has finally passed — but they’re not relaxing quite yet, he said.

“I am happy about it of course,” Moore said. “I’m still a little wary because I don’t believe this is a permanent defense against Austin. … I think they would … take advantage of some temporary public sentiment and try to annex at that time.”

Residents in Hudson Bend, which sits in the city of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, have been discussing the possibility of incorporating as a new city for years. Moore said he believes the only fail-safe method of an area protecting itself from annexation is to incorporate as a separate city.

While SB 6’s passage will probably put Hudson Bend’s incorporation efforts on standby, Moore said future bills would do well to focus on improving what he says is a lengthy and complicated incorporation process.

‘Unnecessary and redundant’

Virginia Collier, the Austin city planner in charge of annexation efforts, said Friday that the city council may want to consider changing its approach to annexation.

“The city … generally looks at areas that are developing in the ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) and areas where the city is expanding some service,” Collier said. “The city might in the future re-evaluate that and consider other types of areas for annexation. Maybe areas before they’re even developing or maybe more cooperatively with property owners that are seeking some utility service.”

Mayor Steve Adler called the bill “unnecessary and redundant” in a statement.

“There is ample evidence that how Austin currently handles annexation works, and it allows us to meet the growing need for city services in the rapidly urbanizing areas right outside Austin,” Adler said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo on Monday said she has concerns about the implications of the bill for cities like Austin. Tovo said it’s too early to say how the city’s annexation strategy may change as a result of the new election requirement.

“It’s unclear to me why the state would be interested in hampering the growth of cities that really represent the economic engines for the state of Texas,” Tovo said. “We need as a municipality the ability to continue to fund services from those who are using them, so annexation offers us the ability to do that.”

Both Tovo and Collier said that Austin has been thoughtful and conservative about annexation, taking in an average of less than 1 percent of total incorporated property per year over the past couple of decades.

River Place

The city did win a small victory when an amendment, which would have exempted annexation areas scheduled for annexation as per agreements with cities, was removed from the bill in later stages.

Residents of River Place, which is set to be annexed by Austin in December, had been hoping the bill would offer them the chance to fight annexation, which they say unfairly subjects them to higher tax bills without a say in the matter.

Tim Mattox, an 18-year resident of River Place and a member of the homeowners association board, said that while he was disappointed that the bill would not apply to his community, he was glad to see the bill make it to the governor’s desk.

“It’s unfortunate (the bill) was passed out of the House that way, but it’s great to see that the bill itself goes through,” Mattox said. “I think Texans overall are going to be well-served by it.”

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