House gives initial approval to annexation limits,
Measure requires large cities to get voter approval.
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.”