Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said he is gearing up for the 2019 Texas legislative session by advocating for a bill that could potentially affect up to about 300,000 county residents.
Meyers said he has been working to pass legislation that would allow residents living in Houston’s extraterritorial jurisdiction—an unincorporated area of land beyond a city’s limits—to vote themselves out of the area for over a decade.
The legislation would allow residents living in Houston’s ETJ to either petition to be annexed into an adjoining city like Katy, stay wholly unincorporated or create a new city.
Meyers said he is still working on crafting the legislation to include language that would outline more specifically how residents who voted themselves out would go about creating their own city.
“I don’t want people to get out of the ETJ and not be able to create a city,” Meyers said. “It will be done probably through some type of petition.”
For residents who vote themselves out and want to join a neighboring city like Katy, Meyers said because of Senate Bill 6, which became law in Dec. 2017, 100 percent of those residents would have to agree to be annexed in to the city.
Meyers said SB 6 makes it nearly impossible for the unincorporated areas of Katy to be annexed by Houston, which is why he thinks the legislation has more promise for the next session in 2019.
“If you have legislation that makes it nearly impossible for a city to annex an area, what’s the reason for an ETJ then if they are never going to be able to annex an area?,” Meyers said.
A narrowly focused bill, Meyers said the legislation would only apply to Fort Bend County and the city of Houston. He said it has taken over a decade to move forward with the legislation because it limits the power of a municipality.
“Legislators are reluctant to pick up legislation that is going to be extremely controversial,” Meyers said. “We certainly anticipate opposition from Houston and the Texas Municipal League on our efforts.”
Officials from the Texas Municipal League said it could not comment on pending legislation regarding TML member cities. Officials from the city of Houston’s Planning and Development Department also declined to comment, and said the city could not speak on proposed legislation that has not been reviewed yet.
Even though thousands of residents may have Katy ZIP codes, the city’s limits only span about 14 square miles, according to city officials. All of the Greater Katy area lies in the city of Houston’s ETJ, not Katy’s ETJ, according to the city of Katy website. This area is located east and southeast of the city limits.
Per the city website, the Greater Katy area includes communities, such as Cinco Ranch, Falcon Point, Firethorne, Grand Lakes, Memorial Parkway, Kelliwood and Nottingham Country. The city of Houston has regulatory power over these areas and can impose taxes there, yet residents cannot vote for the Houston mayor or other City Council members.
Unless Houston releases these areas from its ETJ, the city of Katy cannot annex these neighborhoods into its city limits to allow residents to vote for their own elected officials.
Meyers said he does not think Houston should have the power it does over residents in the unincorporated area of Fort Bend County.
“An unelected body should not have any control over a group of people, particularly if you have the ability to levy a tax on them,” Meyers said.
If the legislation is picked up and passed in the 2019 session, the bill could end up affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.
“You probably have 300,000- plus [people]in the area that would be affected, so it’s a very large number,” Meyers said. “It’s a lot of people: It’s all of Cinco Ranch and Grand Lakes and all of those communities that go to [FM] 1463.”
The legislation could also affect the city of Katy if residents petition to be annexed into the city limits.
The U.S. census reported 17,116 residents living in the city limits in 2016, and in 2010 reported 18,274 residents living in Cinco Ranch, which is identified as a census-designated place. This means adding just one master- planned community located in Houston’s ETJ to Katy’s limits could more than double its size, but city officials said this would be unlikely to happen.
Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner said if the legislation were approved, the city would first look into the financial implications like municipal utility district indebtedness before accepting any petitions for annexations.
“A city would have to assume the debt of a MUD if we annexed that area, and I don’t believe that’s in the best interest of our citizens and taxpayers here in the city of Katy,” Brawner said. “For us, we would have to do it on an individual basis, and we would have to make sure that it’s not going to put [a]financial burden on our taxpayers here.”
Brawner said if Katy’s population were increased through petitioned annexations that would come with the passing of Meyers’ legislation, the city would benefit from additional taxes as long as it did not incur any MUD debt.
“As you bring in new areas it does give you an income stream if there is no debt you are assuming, and therefore, you might be able to increase your public safety,” Brawner said. “And those are the things that people really care about, plus having good police, fire, EMS services, plus having an elected official who is responsible for a particular area for them to be able to complain or make recommendations to, so that would be a benefit for those being brought in.”
The city of Katy has only issued one forced annexation and has relied on property owners petitioning the city to annex in certain areas and grow the city’s limits.
Brawner said future annexations would probably focus on commercial properties, like when the city recently annexed 87 acres in 2017 west of the city limits to Woods Road for the new Amazon facility.
“We would entertain those annexations because I believe those would be good for the city—they are commercial-type properties,” Brawner said.
Meyers said he will meet with state senators and representatives in late June to craft the legislation and is also working on a grassroots campaign that includes transporting willing residents to Austin to testify in Senate committee hearings in support of the bill.
“The legislation session is obviously next year, so [we]don’t know the exact timing of when the bill would come up, and usually those things are only posted in a week in advance,” Meyers said. “We already have some people signed up; we have some interest in the community.”
Cinco Ranch resident Thomas McCaig said he would support the legislation and approves of any effort to remove residents like him out of Houston’s ETJ.
“It makes no sense for this area to be included in the city of Houston,” McCaig wrote in an email. “This would allow local residents to determine the path forward rather than outsiders…Hopefully, our elected representatives in Austin will support this.”
Meyers said he is hopeful through grassroots efforts and reaching out to the community over the next several months, residents will call their state representatives and show support for the bill.
“We are trying to make people aware of it,” Meyers said. “We would anticipate the bill would be introduced in the House first and then if it passes in the House, it will be picked up in the Senate. So, we have to coordinate those efforts and basically prepare as many talking points as we can for the committee that is going to hear the bill.”
Meyers said if the bill is passed and if the Commissioners Court decides to place the legislation on a ballot, Katy residents could vote themselves out of Houston’s ETJ as early as next November, though this quick turnaround is unlikely.
“It’s very difficult to pass it in one legislative session…it’s just kind of the nature of the beast so to speak,” Meyers said, referring to the ETJ legislation bill. “We are not going to give up if we are not successful this time. We are prepared to go to multiple legislative sessions if necessary.”