Forced annexation by cities in Guadalupe County has generated quite a stir lately. During the 2017 legislative session a bill was passed that essentially says if a county has over 500,000 people in it then cities in that county cannot forcibly annex land into the city, that’s Tier 2. Smaller counties are Tier 1 and cities can still use forced annexation unless the city limits run into a Tier 2 county, even if it is just a few acres, or if the entire county votes to convert to Tier 2 rules.

While residents of the extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJ), most of whom are living on farms or multi-acre lots, often claim that the cities are annexing to generate additional revenue the fact is that the cost of providing services to those areas is usually considerably more than the increased tax income unless there is significant residential or commercial development. Cities like Cibolo which is in the midst of such a controversy usually just want to gain some element of control over the development of residential housing in those areas and be able to tax the properties for the services the city will end up providing such as fire and police. Current state law prevents cities from enforcing zoning in the ETJ.

Using Cibolo as an example, city zoning requires lot widths of no less than 55 feet and 10 feet from the lot line to the house on both sides. In at least one development proposed in the Cibolo ETJ, KB Homes wants to build homes on 40 foot wide lots leading to 8 houses per acre rather than the 6 per acre allowed under the city rules. More lots means more profit for KB Homes.

Again using Cibolo as the example, it costs about $2,500 to send out a firetruck and crew on a call. Residents of the city are taxed in order to pay for those calls. In the ETJ, residents don’t pay taxes to Cibolo so their fire protection is the responsibility of the county but due to the distances and time for county or volunteer fire crews to respond more often than not city crews work the call. In other words city tax dollars pay for firefigthers and equipment that ETJ residents then use for free. KB Homes gets to tell prospective home buyers that they’ll only pay county taxes so the total monthly note is at least $50 less on equivalent houses in the ETJ.

Fortunately, the county commissioners offered a solution that at least partially addresses the issue by signing an agreement with the city requiring at least 60 foot lot widths. This gives Cibolo some leverage to encourage developers who want smaller lots to request voluntary annexation or some kind of development agreement wherein the city and developer come to a compromise that works for both.

In Cibolo, the city council doesn’t want to annex property if the owner is willing to sign a long term agreement stating that as long as the property owner doesn’t subdivide the land to build many houses or otherwise change its use, the city won’t annex them. That ought to be enough of a compromise to satisfy most people.

Ironically, Republicans would say the situation is typical of Democrats wanting something for free that other people pay for. The reality is that it is generally rural Republicans fighting for the right to avoid city taxes while getting free services provided by the city.

Now if you hear someone talking about forced annexation and converting Guadalupe to a Tier 2 county, you know the whole story.

JC Dufresne is a liberal activist and current member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, representing Senate District 25.

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