Greatwood and New Territory will be officially annexed into Sugar Land on Dec. 12, boosting the size and population of the city.
A total of nearly 30,000 people live in the master-planned communities of Greatwood and New Territory, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Annexing those areas will swell Sugar Land’s population by about 30 percent and its land area by about 2,500 acres, city officials said in a presentation.
Most residents are satisfied with the annexation, said Robert Chirich, board member of the New Territory Residential Community Association.
“There’s going to be a lot of changes, and I’m not sure people know exactly all of it,” he said. “I think change like that always causes people some consternation. A lot of people don’t like change, but it’s been surprisingly positive.”
A long-term project comes to fruition
The two communities have been in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction for over a decade, and the annexation process first began 10 years ago. In 2007, Sugar Land signed strategic partnership agreements with the municipal utility districts servicing Greatwood and New Territory, Sugar Land city officials said.
The nine MUDs serving Greatwood and New Territory will be dissolved as part of the part of the annexation process, and Sugar Land will take over responsibility for those utility services, Assistant City Manager Jim Callaway said.
Greatwood and New Territory residents will pay taxes to the city of Sugar Land instead of MUDs, and in addition to water utilities, the city will provide services, such as police and fire, public works, permitting and inspections, and engineering, city officials said.
However, homeowners associations will remain in place because they are private entities and will not be affected by annexation, Callaway said.
There is a general consensus among Greatwood residents that annexation is a positive thing for the community, Greatwood HOA President Jack Molho said.
“Every person I’ve talked to is excited about it,” he said. “They’re looking forward to it. It’s not something they’re worried about.”
What is most important to residents is that they continue receiving a quality level of service for water, sewage and public safety, Molho said.
The Fort Bend County sheriff’s office oversees Greatwood and New Territory while the latter community pays about $400,000 per year for constable patrols, Chirich said.
The NTRCA board of directors opted to continue paying for additional constable patrols even after annexation, and it has committed to a three-year contract with the Fort Bend County constable’s office for the services of four patrolmen, Chirich said. The NTRCA agreed to pay the county $411,000 for fiscal year 2017-18, which began Oct. 1.
“[The board of directors] went out and surveyed the residents of New Territory, and most of the people here who did respond … a very small percentage … said they wanted us to keep the constables because they were paranoid about crime and believe that constable patrols prevent crime and reduce it.”
Annexation comes with benefits and costs
Although the majority of New Territory residents are in favor of annexation, they do have some reservations, Chirich said.
“People are concerned about all these permits they’re going to have to get now,” Chirich said. “In the future, if [residents]want a new water heater, a new air conditioner, or a new roof installed—any of these routine maintenance things that come up from time to time—they have to first go to the city and pay the permit cost and then have the inspection thereafter.”
Residents will also have to pay closer attention to city ordinances and codes, Chirich said.
“I don’t think the changes are going to be that dramatic, but probably the cost to New Territory residents is going to go up somewhat,” Chirich said. “The city tax will probably be higher than the MUD tax because the city provides many more services.”
However, because the city will take over certain responsibilities, such as sidewalk maintenance, landscaping, and street light electricity costs, residents can enjoy lower assessments, Chirich said. Assessments are annual fees separate from property taxes that residents pay the HOA to maintain the community.
Financial effect to the city is minimal
The city of Sugar Land planned to hire a total of 73 new employees to assist with the additional responsibilities, and 43 positions have been filled, Callaway said. Additionally, 30 vehicles have been purchased, according to city records.
Projected costs for annexation is estimated to be $9.8 million, Callaway said. This includes salaries for hired personnel, equipment purchases, and provisions of services for the annexed areas.
Sugar Land officials have said the annexation will not result in extra costs for current residents. It is funded by debt reduction funds, which were created nearly a decade ago, according to Sugar Land’s finance department.
“[The debt reduction funds] were started to fund the cost of annexation, including debt,” Callaway said. “There will be some debt that we absorb when we absorb a MUD.”
The revenue from these debt reduction funds are restricted only to be used to support annexation, city officials said. With annexation, additional sales tax, service fees and charges from the areas will help offset general revenue declines, according to city documents. This includes utility sales tax and online sales tax, which are not collected, according to the finance department.
Although the annexation has zero effect on Sugar Land’s FY 2017-18 budget, the city will see gains in property tax and sales tax revenue within the area, which will bolster the city’s financial condition and add debt capacity for future infrastructure projects, according to the finance department.
City officials will redistrict the city over the next year to ensure all residents are properly represented on the City Council, Callaway said. There will be the same number of council members.
“[We will] evaluate all of the population and demographics of all our districts, including the [annexed]areas and then reapportion the districts amongst the city to meet the legal requirements for maintaining proper representation of all the voters,” he said.
Callaway said many residents have expressed excitement over the annexation.
“Overwhelmingly, [there’s] a very positive reaction,” he said. “This is not a surprise. People have known about this for years. Some people think they’re already in the city.”