During an Oct. 12 meeting, council members gave city staff the green light to notify residents and business owners within the 10 tracts of land of potential annexation. The tracts include communities, such as Lakewood Estates, Lake Conroe Village, Riverbrook and Carriage Hills.
The city is considering the annexations in response to a state law approved Aug. 15 that requires voter approval for any annexation made by a city that is located in a county that has a population of 500,000 residents or more, based on decennial U.S. Census numbers—the census that occurs every 10 years. In 2010, Montgomery County was estimated to have 455,746 residents, but officials expect the county population to number more than 500,000 by the 2020 Census.
Still, some Conroe council members remain torn on the issue after running for office on anti-annexation platforms. Conroe Mayor Toby Powell, who said he opposes forced annexations, said he believes cities are being forced to consider annexation now before the new restrictions make it difficult for the city to expand in the future.
“Our elected officials in Austin, along with the governor, have passed new annexation rules which will put undue burden on our city’s future growth,” he said. “Some of the largest cities in Texas have abused the rights to annex, such as San Antonio and Houston, and because of this, these new rules have put a burden on other cities, such as Conroe, that are continuing to grow.”
Conroe officals said the city has specific reasons for considering each tract of land for annexation; however, Nancy Mikeska, Conroe director of community development, said annexations in general are necessary to help offset the cost of providing municipal services, first responder services and road maintenance.
Four communities, including Lakewood Estates, Lake Conroe Village, Riverbrook and Carriage Hills, would be placed into three-year plans for annexations if approved by the council this year, and would add about 1,403 homes to the city. The time frame would be used to notify residents of the annexation, prepare a service plan and hold public hearings.
City officials are considering annexation of the Lakewood Estates, Riverbrook and Carriage Hills communities because of a state statute that mandates properties being annexed must touch the existing city limits. The city has longstanding annexation agreements with communities such as Harper’s Preserve near Hwy. 242 and Jacobs Reserve north of FM 1488, and to comply with this rule, the city must annex the three proposed neighborhoods to create a path to eventually fulfill those agreements.
The remaining six tracts of land, including the Saddle & Surrey, Lake Lorraine and Pine Lake Club communities, would be annexed effective at midnight on Jan. 1 and add about 216 homes to the city. Mikeska said those tracts, as well as Lake Conroe Village, would be annexed because the city provides first responder services to the area without collecting tax revenue to pay for the service from those residents.
“The truth is that in cities that are not allowed to grow, the cost of services goes up every day, and the same number of people share that growing cost,” Mikeska said. “If you don’t add additional people to share that cost, you overburden people that are living inside the boundaries at that point.”
Pine Lake Club resident Tim Naccarato said the annexation would put a financial strain on residents of the communities. At the Nov. 11 public hearing, Naccarato estimates that he will personally see a $1,105 increase in taxes without receiving significantly improved services from the city. Pine Lake Club residents currently pay a 9.81 cent tax rate per $100 of valuation to Emergency Service District No. 3. If annexed, the ESD’s tax rate would be replaced by the city’s 41.71 cent tax rate.
“This is obviously, to me, a panic grab,” he said. “For these additional taxes and fees I basically get nothing. If I were to ask any one of you for $1,000 for some project, any project, and you will get nothing in return I think we all know what your answer would be.”
New state laws
Urgency for the annexations stems from a new law approved during the state’s special legislative session in August.
On Aug. 15, legislators approved new laws that allows residents of a community that is being annexed to vote on and approve annexation by a city if the county population meets the 500,000-resident threshold.
While the city has until the 2020 census to comply with the new annexation laws, the city must still follow existing annexation rules. Some of these rules include the need for annexed parcels of land to be located within a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and to touch existing city limit boundaries.
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said he co-authored the bill because he wanted to protect private property rights of residents of unincorporated areas.
“The homeowners deserve a voice when a political jurisdiction is in the mode of taking them in and imposing a tax that they didn’t have when they signed their contracts and received their deeds for their property,” Creighton said. “I felt that this was a strong opportunity to co-author this legislation to allow homeowners to have a vote and say.”
Council members on the fence
Some Conroe council members have expressed concerns over the law. They said they believe the law would effectively end annexations because voters are more likely to vote against annexations because of increased tax rates.
While the Oct. 12 council decision to move forward with the annexation process does not finalize any of the proposed annexations, council members Duane Ham and Duke Coon consistently voted against annexation of most of the proposed tracts of land. Powell also expressed disapproval of the proposed annexations; however, the mayoral position only votes on matters in the event of a tie.
Ham publicly opposed forced annexation of residential communities during his election campaign in 2016. Still, Ham said the new state laws is detrimental to the city’s future growth.
While Creighton said the law delivers some property tax relief to homeowners in communities that vote against annexation in the future by sparing them from city taxes, Ham said he believes cities may need to increase property tax rates for existing residents to offset the cost of providing services.
“It is going to hurt cities across Texas,” Ham said. “As a city grows, you work to spread the costs of services over a broad amount of people. When you are stuck, and the cost of doing business goes up, you don’t have any choice but to raise taxes.”
Similarly, Coon said even though the state law will hamper municipalities, he would not support forced annexations.
“While I feel it will hurt growth moving forward, I have not and will not be supporting forced annexations,” he said.
Alternatively, Council Member Gil Snider supports annexation of the communities. During the Oct. 11 workshop meeting, Snider said he has seen a positive effect on his neighborhood.
“We are in preparations today for annexation, and I don’t want to give that up,” Snider said. “I don’t want to go through the process later on or not get any of this territory at all.”