By LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
Annexation legislation is making its way through the Texas legislature and some River Place residents opposed to the city of Austin’s annexation are hopeful that a new law could keep them from what they call Austin’s over-reach.
“We are in the final stretch of making forced annexation a vestige of the past in Texas and saving River Place residents thousands of dollars a year in additional taxes and higher utility rates,” said Tim Mattox, an 18-year resident of River Place and a member of the homeowners association board.
Senate bill (SB) 715 made it out of the Intergovernmental Relations committee during the 85th Texas Legislative Session, through the full senate, and is now with the House, where it is called HB 424.
The River Place Homeowners Association has hired a lobbyist to promote annexation reform legislation.
Lobbyist Roger Borgelt, of Borgelt Law, said “HB 424 will most likely be debated in the House on Wednesday morning (May 10), per Huberty’s office… a floor debate on the house floor.”
“Aside from contacting your representatives (Congressman Paul Workman and Senator Kirk Watson for Four Points residents), and voicing your support for ending forced annexation in any and all venues, the next opportunity to have an impact on the legislative process will be when the next hearings are held,” Mattox said.
Borgelt also said that Rep. Paul Workman R-Austin is sponsoring an amendment that would include River Place in the bill.
The reason Workman is sponsoring an amendment for River Place is because an amendment was added to SB 715 by Sen. Robert Nichols R-Jacksonville prior to being passed by the full Senate that made the bill not apply to River Place or any other community currently under a strategic partnership agreement.
The bill in its current form will work for communities that don’t have a SPA in place when the bill is put into law, Mattox said.
“This (Workman) amendment is the last hope we have to save River Place from forced annexation by the city of Austin,” Mattox said.
Senate Bill 715, filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would require cities to get the consent of more than half of the property owners in the area targeted for annexation. The process would involve a petition for an area with fewer than 200 residents and an election for any larger area.
Sen. Kirk Watson D-Austin voted against SB 715.
River Place, with its 1,100 homes, was annexed, and over the three-year process, is scheduled to be fully absorbed into the city by Dec. 31. Once fully annexed, residents expect to pay additional taxes for the same or few services, said Mattox. He estimates that River Place residents would pay at least $350 more per $100,000 of property value in property taxes and about $1,000 a year more for electricity after annexation.
According to a recent Austin American-Statesman report, state law allows a city to annex the equivalent of up to 10 percent of its incorporated land each year. For Austin, that is about 18,000 acres from its extraterritorial jurisdiction or the 5-mile area that surrounds city limits.
City officials say they have been taking in an average of less than 1 percent of total incorporated property per year over the past couple of decades, according to the Statesman.
As things stand now, the city of Austin does not need residents of a community to approve annexation. The city uses the process to improve the economic base and to help manage growth and development.
Mattox and others in River Place believe annexation is used as a “land grab” by officials trying to boost their tax revenue by taking in high-value properties. He thinks it’s unfair to residents who have little power to resist such decisions yet are subject to higher tax bills and that is why he is hoping for the passage of the annexation legislation.
Mattox, who spoke at Senate committee hearings, said that people showing up to the hearings make a difference.
“Thank you to everyone who attended the initial round of hearings. Combined with the San Antonio and other communities, it was a presence that was hard to ignore at the standing room only hearings,” he said.
Unlike the Senate hearings, there is not an opportunity to testify in the House hearings.
“However, physical presence can make a difference, as it did with the Senate hearings,” Mattox said. “Let’s make this final push count.”