From Ending Forced Annexation in Texas: Hon. Jess Fields & James Quintero, TPPF, Center for Local Governance (July, 2015)
Texas cities practice involuntary annexation on a regular basis. Property owners and residents currently have no opportunity to consent to their annexation under the law, and challenging the decision is virtually impossible.
The history of Texas points to voluntary general law annexation via petition which is, to this day, the primary means of annexation for general law (also known as statutory) cities in Texas. Home rule cities have had the ability to involuntarily annex since the passage of the Home Rule Amendment to the Texas Constitution in 1912.
A series of abuses, particularly by the city of Houston, led to some limited reforms of involuntary annexation over the years. is includes the Municipal Annexation Act of 1963 that created the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, and further reforms passed in the late 1990s after Houston’s controversial annexation of Kingwood.
In spite of these reforms, the practice of involuntary annexation is still the law in Texas. Property owners are regularly annexed without their consent, and many annexations, both large and small, continue to be controversial. In direct contrast to common assumptions that large-scale annexations are no longer happening in Texas, San Antonio recently began studying a massive 66-square-mile annexation that would add roughly 200,000 people to the city by 2020. The annexation would make San Antonio the fifth largest city in the nation.
Involuntary annexation has a number of potential downsides. It strikes a clear contrast with the history of the United States and our nation’s long deference to self-determination as being the ultimate cornerstone of governance. The Founding Fathers clearly envisioned a system in which individuals could choose which jurisdiction they wanted to live in, and in which the rights of the citizens were preserved above all else. Forced annexation could not be farther from the founding vision of protecting sovereign individuals’ rights from the power of government.
It also has questionable fiscal consequences. While municipalities often target areas for annexation based on the prospect of a more robust tax base, there are questions raised in scholarly studies about how viable many annexations are and what kinds of strains they place on service provision within municipalities. When cities expand, so too do their fiscal obligations— and the strains placed upon existing services, as well as the penchant to create more debt, are all too real.
Finally, involuntary annexation can have undesirable social consequences. Annexation rarely targets poor, low-income areas. Instead, most annexations are value plays, seeking to bring in the wealthiest properties that will expand the tax base the most. Lower-income communities may or may not want to be annexed, but they are clearly treated differently.
In light of these adverse effects of involuntary annexation, the Texas Legislature should enact reforms to require the consent of a majority of residents in order to annex.
For areas with a population of 200 or less, the process of annexing a community ought to be done by petition. For areas with a population size exceeding 200 persons, it should be accomplished via election held on a regularly scheduled election date. If residents don’t own a majority of the property in the area proposed for annexation, then property owners should also be petitioned. If a majority of property owners agree to the annexation, if necessary, and if consent is obtained from the qualified voters of the area to be annexed, then annexation should proceed in a quick fashion that is not delayed by unnecessary bureaucratic processes. In addition, voluntary annexation should be sped up by the allowance of agreements between cities and property owners to provide a certain level of services. Finally, citizens of the city initiating the annexation should have the option to reject the annexation if they can muster the signatures of 10 percent of the last municipal election’s vote total and vote to reject it in an election.
These are fair and equitable reforms that give cities a quicker, less bureaucratic annexation process, while giving residents the ability to consent to their future. Texans should not lag behind other states on the essential question of property rights. Now is the time for involuntary annexation reform.