Altering annexation bill could do harm
Published 8:43 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017
We urge any and all of our elected representatives to reject outright any legislation that would significantly alter the annexation process.
At present, in the Senate, lawmakers are poised to consider SB 715, a bill that would allow cities to annex residential, business and industrial areas only with the consent of the majority of the owners. There are similar bills in the House.
Senate Bill 715’s mandate is absurd, counterproductive and harmful. In the case of Port Arthur, a city that gets about half of the annual budget from surrounding industries that pay an annual fee in exchange for a promise that the city will not pursue annexation, the passage of these bills will kill the city.
The bill’s proponents wrongly state that cities can, on a whim, simply grab neighboring areas without oversight. In fact, the homeowners and businesses owners already have a venue to protest proposed annexation — the courts. If the homeowner or the business owner can prove that the city will not be able to provide certain services or that the annexation is not necessary, or if the city has a history of needless annexations then a judge may reject the bid.
This is as it should be.
However, when businesses, industry and homeowners develop property just outside the city’s limits, they are, in effect, exploiting the city. Typically cities offer things like fire protection, police services, water and sewage and other amenities to their immediate neighbors. These services come alongside more intangible benefits like reduced fire insurance costs, home insurance rates and quick access to cultural and social destinations on well-paved streets. All the while, the residents of the city are the ones paying the property taxes that support these systems while the residents and businesses that are outside the city limits are getting these things for free or at reduced rates.
If, over time, a good-sized number of business, industry or residential developments develop up just outside of a city, the freeloaders could strain the city’s services and budget and this is why annexation exists.
Finally, cities like Port Arthur and Beaumont are in a unique position that is even more precarious than most other cities. Our cities have highly profitable industry just outside of our limits, but we make no effort to annex the properties, despite the obvious advantages these industries enjoy by being so near cities. In exchange, our city governments have worked out agreements wherein industry voluntarily chips in annual payments that make up a significant portion of the cities’ budgets.
Should the possibility of annexation be taken off the table, these industries would have no real reason at all to continue paying and therefore our city and Beaumont would be financially hobbled.
Such a move would mean deep, bloody cuts to our municipal budgets, and this would eventually hurt everyone — including our industrial neighbors who would have to rely on fewer police and fire services, among other things.
We want to be very clear: Annexation is not always the best solution.
Cities should not annex as a quick fix to patch their budgets. The South is littered with cities that gobbled up bedroom communities as white flight sent middle and upper class families into the suburbs in the ‘60s and ‘70s. These annexations left too many cities with huge footprints that are now wholly economically unsustainable. Poor planning and bad annexation decisions can hurt some cities.
However, if state lawmakers effectively kill the possibility of annexation for everyone, then we can expect all cities to suffer in the coming years.