By KIM ESTES
Four Points News
River Place leaders are asking their neighbors and other Four Points residents to support proposed Texas Senate Bill 715, which would give property owners the right to vote for or against municipal annexation.
River Place leaders believe annexation will bring higher taxes and fewer services to their community, and they also want to draw attention to the fact that other local communities may be next on Austin’s annexation list.
The River Place Homeowners Association intends to have representatives at the bill’s public hearing and hopes others will register and testify.
The Senate hearing is Wednesday, April 5, starting at 9 a.m. in room E1.028 at the State Capitol building. The House hearing is the same day starting at 2 p.m. in room E2.026.
It is an urgent matter for River Place, which is scheduled for annexation by the city of Austin on December 15, as set forth in a 2009 Strategic Partnership Agreement between the city of Austin and the River Place Municipal Utility District. The SPA was originally negotiated to delay annexation as long possible, said Scott Crosby, a 13-year River Place resident and board member for both MUD and the River Place HOA.
If passed as now proposed, SB 715 would go into effect September 1 making the SPA’s future unclear. “I do not know if the SPA would be void or whether it would require a vote. Either way, the annexation would require a vote,” said Crosby.
“The bill as written would give River Place residents a vote on whether or not to be annexed by the city of Austin. I believe that residents should have a vote in this important decision,” said Tim Mattox, a 17-year River Place resident and HOA board member.
Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio, filed SB 715, also known as the Texas Annexation Reform Act, on Feb. 2. She co-authored the bill with five other Republicans, including Sen. Dawn Buckingham, Lakeway, and Sen. Charles Schwertner, Bryan.
“The Texas Annexation Reform Act protects property owners from forced annexation and gives residents a greater say in what should be a more collaborative process,” Sen. Campbell said.
“It is simply wrong to force citizens who live outside the jurisdiction of a city to be absorbed as an exercise in government expansion designed to increase a city’s tax base,” Campbell stated.
Prior to the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the city of Austin notified River Place MUD of its intent to annex the neighborhood as provided by the city code. “The SPA delayed the ultimate annexation in exchange for the city takeover of the water treatment and waste treatment plant in 2014. The MUD’s role in this was simply to try and delay the annexation as long as possible,” said Crosby.
SB 715 may altogether stop the annexation of River Place, and it is supported by the HOA.
“The main reasons for the HOA board’s opposition (to annexation) are high taxes and diminished services,” Mattox said.
As an example of “diminished” services, Crosby recalled a road project by the city last year. “The city put a chip coat on a portion of River Place Boulevard to extend the life of the road. They did a terrible job,” he said.
Regarding taxes, Crosby estimated property taxes would increase $0.35 per $100 valuation.
“Rough estimates of revenue from sources flowing out of River Place are about $5 million a year. Annexation is an easy way to provide an additional revenue source with a little incremental expense,” Mattox said.
Bob Almand, also a 17-year River Place resident and HOA board member, agreed. “Under the current law, many cities annex areas simply to boost their tax base while ignoring the need to provide equivalent or improved services to the areas they annex,” he said.
“If some form of this bill does not pass this legislative term, every neighborhood in our community will be fair game for the city of Austin to annex into their tax base,” Almand said.
At least one other Four Points community, Steiner Ranch, has been mentioned to be a prospect of city annexation.
“We have had discussions on this possibility,” said Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association chairman, Brian Thompto. “Broadly, we have found that our community would like to have a say should it come up.”
River Place leaders contend that passage of SB 715 would give homeowners that voice, and Sen. Campbell said it would do even more.
Additional provisions of the bill include streamlining the voluntary annexation process to a matter of weeks when owners and municipalities can agree in writing on the provision of services.
Repealing limited purpose annexation, whereby regulations are imposed on residents of the extraterritorial jurisdiction without representation and without receiving any city services.
“The morning of the hearing is when people sign up and register to testify,” said Nathan McDaniel, a representative for Sen. Campbell,
To track the bill, go to http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx. There are several menu options, including “My TLO” from which an account can be set up for notifications regarding a bill’s status as well as other information about it.
Also, supporters can be added to an information distribution list by contacting Vangie with Certified Management at email@example.com, Mattox said.