House gives ini­tial ap­proval to an­nex­a­tion lim­its,

Mea­sure re­quires large cities to get voter ap­proval.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Taylor Gold­en­stein tgold­en­stein@states­man. com

Af­ter months of tug-of-war and a holdup on a tech­ni­cal­ity ear­lier this week, the state House gave ini­tial ap­proval Fri­day to a bill that re­quires voter ap­proval be­fore cities in large coun­ties can an­nex new ar­eas.

The mea­sure, which is a House com­mit­tee sub­sti­tute ver­sion of Se­nate Bill 6 by Sen. Donna Camp­bell, R-New Braun­fels, passed 11524 and would re­quire cities in coun­ties with pop­u­la­tions above 500,000 to get voter ap­proval for an­nex­a­tion of ar­eas where more than 200 peo­ple live.

For an­nex­a­tion ar­eas with fewer than 200 res­i­dents, cities would have to get more than half of the af­fected prop­erty own­ers to sign a pe­ti­tion in fa­vor.

“I think we’re in good shape,” said Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, the House spon­sor of the bill on Fri­day. “If ev­ery­thing’s OK, I hope (the Se­nate will) just con­cur.”

The House will likely give the bill a fi­nal read­ing Satur­day, and af­ter that, the Se­nate will ei­ther have to vote on the new ver­sion or hash out its dif­fer­ences in con­fer­ence com­mit­tee be­fore the leg­is­la­tion can go to the gov­er­nor’s desk.

A par­tic­u­larly con­tentious part of the bill — the sub­ject that led Sen. José Menén­dez, D-San An­to­nio, to fili­buster the reg­u­lar ses­sion ver­sion of this bill to death — re­lates to an­nex­a­tion around mil­i­tary bases. The bill that passed Fri­day al­lows res­i­dents within five miles of a mil­i­tary base to vote on pro­posed an­nex­a­tion but also al­lows cities to main­tain the right to reg­u­late that area.

Bill op­po­nent Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, suc­ceeded Mon­day in get­ting it sent back to com­mit­tee to ad­dress word­ing on pop­u­la­tion counts, a tac­tic that ul­ti­mately de­layed the House vote by a few days.

The House also amended the bill Fri­day to al­low smaller coun­ties to opt in to pro­tec­tions of­fered by the law through a pe­ti­tion and elec­tion process.

If passed, SB 6 would have broad im­pli­ca­tions for large cities such as Austin that have long stood by an­nex­a­tion as a method of build­ing up their eco­nomic bases and man­ag­ing growth and de­vel­op­ment.

The city of Austin’s planned an­nex­a­tions as of now, how­ever, would not be af­fected un­der the cur­rent ver­sion of the bill, af­ter a pro­vi­sion that would have over­turned agree­ments with mu­nic­i­pal util­ity dis­tricts was re­moved.

Those sched­uled an­nex­a­tions of River Place and Shady Hol­low mu­nic­i­pal util­ity dis­tricts are both sub­ject to such agree­ments.

Vir­ginia Col­lier, the Austin city plan­ner in charge of an­nex­a­tion ef­forts, said Fri­day that the city is closely fol­low­ing the bill to see if that changes. Col­lier said if the bill passes, the city may need to re­con­sider its ap­proach to an­nex­a­tion.

“The city ... gen­er­ally looks at ar­eas that are de­vel­op­ing in the ETJ (ex­trater­ri­to­rial ju­ris­dic­tions) 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.”

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 res­i­dents are wait­ing with bated breath to see whether that pro­vi­sion might re­turn and give them a say.

“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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