Ending Forced Annexation in Texas: Hon. Jess Fields & James Quintero, TPPF, Center for Local Governance (July, 2015)
The Social Case Against Involuntary Annexation
We have previously noted that perhaps the two most often used reasons for defending involuntary annexation were to “expand the tax base” and to “manage growth.” If these phrases were allowed to stand on their own, unchallenged, then we can see why a planner might find them attractive. What city doesn’t want more revenue and higher-quality growth, however that is defined? The patent problem with both matters is that they relegate an entire segment of society to the dustbin of policymaking. Namely, both justifications for annexation take no heed of the poorest citizens who live outside of cities.
Expansion of the tax base is inherently discriminatory, because it requires cities to maximize the value they get from the properties they choose to annex. In this case, that value is tax value. To maximize tax value, the most highly appraised commercial and residential properties are preferred to those that yield a lower taxable value. The net result of this is that poor communities are rarely annexed, particularly if other options exist for municipal boundary growth.
Growth management is, like expansion of the tax base, an inherently discriminatory justification for annexation. Generally speaking, managing growth is really about making sure that the growth is as high-value and high-quality as possible. Managing growth is not about inclusion, but exclusion—some uses are allowed, while others are not.
A perfect example of this is the location of manufactured home communities in relation to major cities. Few major cities provide much opportunity for subdivisions focusing on such low-value growth to occur, even if the market demands it. As a result, many such communities are pushed to the fringes of cities, even far out into unincorporated areas. Lacking services such as regular municipal policing and other services provided largely by cities but less so by counties, these communities exist a world apart from the cities they orbit. They will continue to, because cities likely will not annex them once they are established outside the corporate limits.
The exceptionally common practice of preferring wealthier areas to poorer areas in annexation is evidence of the inherently discriminatory nature of the policy. Government is picking and choosing who it wants to constitute the growth of the municipality, which, as the economic case showed, deviates from the equilibrium of municipal services needed to meet the actual demand of the marketplace. If involuntary annexation were shuttered, it is reasonable to hypothesize that poor communities on the fringes of cities, as well as those within cities currently, would be some of the primary beneficiaries of the inclusiveness of annexation by consent, instead of by force.
Additionally, voluntary annexation has another potential benefit to better integrate low-income areas into their communities. Because these low-income areas at the fringes of cities potentially have the most to gain from an influx of new city services brought about by annexation, they become power brokers in the process of gaining consent for annexation. They are empowered to become part of the decision-making process by having an outsized role in how annexation is conducted, when, and where.