Texas public policy foundation
Texas land grab: Annexations trample property rights

This article, written by Kenric Ward, originally appeared in Watchdog Texas on August 27, 2015.

Without property owners’ consent, Texas cities expand their tax base and pad their bank accounts by annexing thousands of square miles of suburbia.

“Texans hold dear to the right to self-governance, free association and private property,” says James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “They are under assault by forced annexation policies employed by cities.”

San Antonio, America’s seventh largest city, is one of the most aggressive land grabbers. Its latest annexation plan targets 252,000 residents and 87 square miles of Bexar County.

Affluent districts on San Antonio’s north and southwest side are in the city’s sights. It’s no coincidence the suburban pockets are among the most highly valued in the metro area.

More than $17 billion in debt, the Alamo City needs to shore up its tax base.

“Forced annexation policies allow cities like San Antonio to impose their taxes, debts and big-government structures on people against their will,” Quintero asserts.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, says city and county tax rates average about the same across the state, roughly 50 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

“People in non-city areas often pay many additional property taxes to a variety of special districts like municipal utility districts. Cities can replace the services many of these districts provide at less cost,” he told Watchdog.org.

County officials generally do not oppose annexation, since they continue to levy property taxes after incorporation. That typically means higher overall taxes for annexed properties.

Government reform groups want the next legislative session to bring more accountability to the annexation process by:

  • Requiring annexing cities to produce a written contract for services in at least two public hearings.
  • Requiring approval by a majority of the voters or landowners. Areas of fewer than 200 residents could be done via petition; larger areas would require a referendum at a regularly scheduled election.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, authored annexation-reform bills (SB 1639 and HB 2221) that were not enacted last session. They pledge to continue to fight for accountability.

Terri Hall, president of the San Antonio-based Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, says taxpayers can’t afford to wait. “We encourage Gov. (Greg) Abbott to call a special session to address forced annexation,” she said.

“It’s an outrage that San Antonio would go so far outside its limits to grab taxpayers who never intended to live inside San Antonio. This isn’t self-governance, it’s abusive government that threatens a free society and property rights.”

Current law “enables local government excess,” Quintero said. “Instead of cities working through their budgets to address inefficiencies, they’re grabbing cash-rich areas to finance big-government ideas that are failing,” he concluded.