Governor Abbott signs annexation reform bill into law without protections for River Place

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 6, regarding municipal annexation reform, into law Tuesday, according to Texas Legislature Online.

Sponsored by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, SB 6 requires voter approval before an unincorporated area is annexed into a city. The bill was passed by the Senate on Aug. 13 and the House on Aug. 14, according to Texas Legislature Online.

“For far too long, large municipalities have been annexing property without the owners’ consent, forcing them to pay higher taxes for services they oftentimes do not want,” said state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, in a press release Aug. 15. “Large cities will no longer be able to run roughshod over the people through forced annexation.”

Senate Bill 715, the version of the bill from the regular session, died on the Senate floor in a filibuster May 28. During the regular session, Workman had successfully worked with River Place residents to add an amendment that would have exempted the neighborhood from annexation in the regular session.

The River Place Municipal Utility District–located in Austin’s limited purpose jurisdiction in the Four Points area–is scheduled to be fully annexed by the city of Austin later this year per a strategic partnership agreement between the River Place MUD and the city from 2009.

On Aug. 11, Workman tried to exempt River Place from annexation again with an amendment to Senate Bill 6, which would have required the same voter approval in any regular area undergoing annexation to occur in SPAs. However, the amendment failed in a 120-12 vote in the House.

“Although we are disappointed as a community that River Place was not included in the legislation that ultimately was signed into law, we are gratified that our efforts helped enable Texans, particularly our neighbors in the Four Points area, to cast a vote to determine their destiny,” said Tim Mattox, a board member for the River Place Homeowners Association.

The bill will go into effect Dec. 1, 2017, according to Texas Legislature Online. Soon after, the River Place MUD will become a part of the city of Austin through full-purpose annexation on Dec. 15, giving residents the ability to vote in Austin elections, pay city taxes and receive all city services.

When annexed, the River Place MUD will convert to a limited district, according to the SPA. The district will have the same responsibilities as the MUD, such as continued management of its parks and solid waste disposal. The limited district will be funded by a property tax rate up to $0.50 per $100 valuation, placed specifically on River Place homeowners, according to the SPA.

In May, limited district taxpayers will have the chance to vote on keeping the limited district. If they choose not to continue with a limited district, the city of Austin will assume all of its responsibilities.

Although River Place will be annexed, the bill will require future annexations by the city of Austin to be approved by the majority of voters in the area proposed to be annexed, according to a House Research Organization Bill Analysis from Aug. 11.

“Despite the amendments to the annexation statutes resulting from the 2017 special session, the city will continue to partner with and be responsive to the challenges and concerns of affected parties to produce better outcomes for residents, property owners and service providers regarding when and where Austin’s boundaries will continue expanding,” Austin City Planner Virginia Collier said.

Reporting contributed by Emily Donaldson/Community Impact Newspaper.

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Abby Bora

Abby Bora started at Community Impact Newspaper in May 2017. She covers business and city news in Leander and Cedar Park. Bora graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. with a bachelor’s degree in media and communications studies.

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