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Texas Lawmakers Could Limit Cities' Power To Annex This Special Session

The Texas Legislature could take up a bill that would limit municipal annexation powers. It's unclear how that might affect Austin's annexation of the River Place neighborhood.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The Texas Legislature could take up a bill that would limit municipal annexation powers. It's unclear how that might affect Austin's annexation of the River Place neighborhood.

Tim Mattox doesn’t want to live in Austin, but soon he might not have a choice. Mattox has lived in the  River Place neighborhood for 19 years. It’s a community of about 1,100 homes just northwest of the city near Lake Austin. In December, Mattox’s neighborhood is scheduled to be annexed by the city.

“When we get annexed, we’ll have a property tax of about $350 per $100,000 of property value for no increase in services at all,” he said. “Our electric rates would revert to the City of Austin electric rates.”

In 2009, the city and the River Place MUD (municipal utility district), the independent board that governs the area, agreed to what’s called a "full purpose annexation" at the end of this year.

Mattox calls the deal a “forced annexation” and argues residents didn't have enough of a say in it. This past legislative session, he and other residents threw their support behind Senate Bill 715, which would have required a petition or an election by voters who would be absorbed into a city.

Then on May 28,  state Sen. Jose Menendez began a late-night filibuster that effectively killed the annexation bill. The San Antonio Democrat said people in unincorporated areas often benefit from the city’s emergency services and that communities like River Place wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for their proximity to major cities.

“The reason for annexation laws being what they are is because people are purposefully creating neighborhoods and developments on the outer edge of a city limit in order to avoid city taxes," he said, "but they’re still working, shopping and doing the things that they need inside the cities themselves.” 

Mattox sees it differently. He works for an Austin-based company that pays taxes; when he’s in the city, he pays gas and sales tax. 

Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to take up the issue again during the special session that begins Tuesday. It was one of 20 items he identified as priorities for the session.

Mattox sees the current annexation laws as local government overreach. Others say Austin’s practices have been conservative.

“Under the current state law, cities are allowed to annex up to 10 percent of their land area on an annual basis," said city planner Virginia Collier. "Over the last 20 years or so, the City of Austin averaged about 1 percent of its land base.”

Collier noted that the city has voted down some proposed annexations in recent years over concerns brought by residents and emergency service providers. She said those are examples of when the process, as it is laid out under current state law, has worked well.

Even if lawmakers do pass a measure requiring a vote on annexations, it’s unclear how that might affect River Place’s annexation, a deal that was reached eight years ago.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Syeda Hasan is KUT's development and affordability reporter. She previously worked as a reporter at Houston Public Media covering county government, immigrant and refugee communities, homelessness and the Sandra Bland case. Her work has been heard nationally on public radio shows such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace.