Monday, December 16, 2013

LIMITED ANNEXATION REFORM NEEDED



VoN oRMY—The City of San Antonio has set its eyes on South Bexar County.  Despite the economic boom of the region and state, San Antonio ended last year with an unprecedented budget shortfall that was balanced by cutting public safety:  firefighters, police, and animal control.  The reason?  Generations of bond issuances, public debt and unchecked legacy liabilities, such as pensions, that according to its city manager will consume all of the city’s general fund by 2025.  
   So what is a debt laden city to do?  Restructure its debt?  Curb its big spending habits?  Stop pouring millions of dollars into street cars and linear parks?  No. The City of San Antonio has decided to annex.
    Annexation is a legal process designed to allow cities to grow.  When applied as intended, cities expand as the areas around it mature, develop and require city services.  Good city planning results in this growth benefiting both the city and the newly annexed areas.
   Unfortunately, this is not the case with San Antonio’s recently announced plans for limited purpose annexation in South Bexar County.    
    Divided into 4 areas, San Antonio’s land grab encompass nearly all of the commercial and industrial areas in South Bexar County and those with industrial potential.  It has intentionally avoided areas with dense or even modest residential communities because these areas require services that tax the city budget.
    San Antonio is cherry picking the assets of South Bexar County, siphoning away our tax base to fill the hole in its city budget and leaving the residents without services or the means to provide them. 
    When full annexation comes, these areas will be removed from our Emergency Services Districts (ESDs) eroding the tax base that supports our Fire and EMS services.
    This robber baron approach to city planning is being fast tracked during the holiday season in the hope of going unchallenged.  Residents and County, State and Local officials should demand a balanced approach to annexation that provides services to the residents of South Bexar County in exchange for taking their community assets, and ensure that the residents who will not be annexed are not left without the means of funding emergency services.
   A prime example of this asset taking policy can be seen in the example of Sandy oaks, which was given permission to incorporate in Southeast Bexar County last month.  Sandy oaks was not included in San Antonio’s annexation plan because it is a dense residential area.  In the 2.3 square miles of Sandy oaks that was given permission to incorporate there are 3,600 residents.  In the 36 square miles of land San Antonio is seeking to annex there are only 3,000 residents.  Sandy oaks was denied its request for an additional 1.6 square miles that included 1 gas station, 1 fast food restaurant, 1 fireworks stand and the rest agricultural lands on the grounds that these were “essential” to the future growth and sustainability of San Antonio.
   San Antonio City Council was unmoved by the pleas of this Southside community to share the assets immediately adjoining them to ensure funding for the deliverability of municipal services in Sandy oaks.  The sharing of natural resources and community assets is a fundamental principle of regional planning that is being ignored by San Antonio at this time in its desperate need to find additional tax base.   The residents of South Bexar County and Northern Atascosa County should take note of how their neighbors are being treated. 
     San Antonio is currently abusing its annexation authority by adopting a one-sided approach to city planning.  While San Antonio is holding the required public hearings, it is not required by law to consider the effect of its involuntary annexation on the residents of South Bexar County. 
   Legislative action is needed to ensure that annexation powers are no longer abused by city planners to strip other communities of their assets without providing services to residents or leaving them without the means to provide services.  
   Under current law only large cities can involuntarily annex.  Small cities, like Von ormy, Somerset and Lytle can only grow by voluntarily annexation, which requires the landowner to request annexation. 
   Voluntary annexation requires cities to convince residents of its ETJ that it is in their best interest to join the city.  This is possible.  Von ormy has grown nearly 20% in area since it originally incorporated, entirely through voluntary incorporation.
   Large cities claim voluntary annexation is not feasible for them due to the large areas they annex.  This may be so, but residents within the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of a large city should therefore be guaranteed the right to vote on involuntary annexation.  Cities who involuntarily annex would then face the voters in the areas being annexed and by necessity convince a majority that they are being given a good deal under the annexation plan.
  
  


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