AUSTIN — A bill that would limit cities’ ability to annex unincorporated areas by giving residents a chance to vote on the issue was approved by the Texas House, angering city officials across the state.
SB 715, authored by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, could allow unincorporated subdivisions to veto city annexation plans and freeze the boundaries of Texas cities. The bill is on its way to the Senate, which can concur with added amendments from the House or create a conference committee to reach a compromise on the bill.
“The reason this country was founded was because people wanted the right to vote,” state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the bill’s House sponsor, said. “Do we represent our mayors and city councils, or do we represent our constituents? People that we represent have the right to decide what city they live in.”
The bill was debated on the House floor Sunday night and received final approval with a 100-35 vote Monday morning.
Huberty said that under the bill, cities with a population under 200 people would be required to have a petition for approval by 50 percent of voters, and those cities with more than 200 people would require elections. It would prohibit limited purpose annexation, Huberty said, where cities create strategic partnership agreements to take not the residential properties, but the businesses and taxes without providing services. Annexations are used as a way to extract revenue from residents who chose to live outside the city in the first place, he said.
The bill would also implement restrictions in annexation to municipalities in counties of 500,000 people or more.
Opponents of the bill have said it could dramatically curb San Antonio’s ability to grow in the future. It could also halt the city’s current attempts to annex a rapidly developing part of North Bexar County along Interstate 10 West.
In September, the San Antonio City Council voted to move forward with the plan to annex the northern part of Bexar County. Those against the plan said they will have to pay higher city taxes, unable to afford them. They were also concerned about the quality and cost of city fire and emergency response services, and a general sense of not feeling represented by San Antonio.
Jeff Coyle, director of government and public affairs for the city of San Antonio, said that SB 715 reverses decades of annexation law in Texas and that it is bad public policy. The bill accommodates the interests of a few, Coyle said, and allows people to locate just outside the city limits while working inside the city and benefiting from the resources provided by the San Antonio taxpayers.
State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, one of the most vocal legislators against the bill, said it would cause the state to fail to protect its military bases. The bill would halt several planned annexations near military installations in San Antonio; these bases need to become part of the city to impose land use restrictions and controls to deal with heights of structures, light pollution and noise limitations.
“(The bill is) about taking the extraterrestrial jurisdictions and allowing people to regulate their community any way they want without taking the military’s suggestions of what they think is best.”
Gutierrez offered an amendment that would create a 5-mile buffer around military bases to exempt these areas from the public vote requirement, which was later adopted.
This story was published in San Antonio Express-News May 23, 2017.