Legislation could give residents a vote in the process
By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
Though it would likely be several years away, Steiner Ranch community leaders are starting to look into options to avoid being annexed by the city of Austin.
While Steiner Ranch is not currently on the proposed annexation list of the City of Austin, Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association board members believe that is only because the community still has too much debt.
“Once the debt is low enough, which I think will be early 2020, I think they are going to start taking a hard look at us,” said William Farrell, SRNA board member. “(We have) too much tax base to ignore.”
Farrell said they have seen the struggle in River Place, which is currently in the process of being annexed. Residents say annexation will lead to higher taxes with no additional services provided.
“We saw what was going on with River Place, so we decided that it might be a good idea to start getting our ducks in a row,” Farrell said.
Board members had an initial meeting with legal counsel about how to fight annexation if it gets that far; however, Farrell said he is hoping there might be a legislative solution.
“We are hoping to avoid the issue altogether with the proper legislation,” Farrell said.
Legislation filed in the 2015 legislative session would have given citizens a vote in whether or not they want to be annexed.
House Bill 2221, authored by State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, was a contentious bill that died amid concerns that it would hurt the ability of cities to expand.
The bill was spurred in part by San Antonio’s plans to annex a massive area of 66 square miles and more than 200,000 people over the next six years, according to an article in the San Antonio Express-News.
“Shouldn’t those Texans have a right to vote on where they live?” Huberty said in a 2015 speech on the floor. “That’s all I’m asking.”
Rep. Paul Workman, whose district includes Steiner Ranch and River Place, said annexation is a big issue in his district.
“In (House) District 47, there are four subdivisions that are very concerned about this, so it’s on our radar as something to watch,” Workman said.
In addition to Steiner Ranch and River Place, Hudson Bend and Barton Creek are also looking into ways to fight annexation.
Workman said he believes the annexation process needs to be changed.
“The current annexation law is weighed heavily in favor of existing municipalities,” Workman said. “They can go in and annex without citizen authority and I think that’s wrong. Cities probably do need a little bit of flexibility but the way it is right now is just broken. We support efforts to reform annexation and we’ll support those in the upcoming legislative session.”
Workman said he supported the legislation filed by Huberty in the 2015 session and plans to support similar legislation in the upcoming session, which begins in January.
“I spoke with Rep. Huberty and he said that (legislation) will be filed again,” Workman said.
According to information on the Hudson Bend website, for city-initiated annexation, if a city wishes to annex an area with less than 200 people, the city can follow a petition process. If a majority of qualified voters in the area agree with annexation, the process can be completed in as little as four months.
If the area the city wants to annex has more than 200 people, the city follows an election process. Qualified voters in the area subject to annexation can then vote in a regularly scheduled election—either May or November—on whether to be annexed.
The bill bans limited purpose annexation, where a city will only apply its regulations and taxes on an area but not provide any services.