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Departing from policy, Council declines to annex

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 by Jo Clifton

At the urging of City Council Member Ann Kitchen, Council last week rejected annexation of a small area containing about 35 homes. The vote was 7-4, with Council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Leslie Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo opposed.

Kitchen started Thursday’s conversation by making a motion to postpone annexation of the area. Known as the Mooreland addition, it spans 34 acres in Southwest Travis County contiguous to Kitchen’s District 5. Kitchen argued that area residents living in modest homes would have to pay an additional $900 a year in taxes on homes valued at $200,000 or an additional $1,300 a year on homes valued at $300,000.

She said that she and her staff had talked to many of the area residents and that they were all opposed to the annexation.

“This is a small neighborhood. There are many older residents and residents on fixed incomes. … This is not a subdivision that was set down on the edge of the city limits to take advantage of the benefits and amenities of the city without paying taxes,” Kitchen said.

“This is a semi-rural area that has been around for a long time that essentially the city limits have marched toward. These residents have lived there for decades, in some cases on long-held family homesteads. At this point it’s an abrupt transition for these residents, and that’s why I am moving to postpone it,” she concluded.

However, city staff explained that a postponement would mean that the city would not be able to annex the property this year but that it could come back next year and start over on the annexation process.

Virginia Collier from the city’s Planning and Zoning Department told Council, “The reason we put this on this year’s annual program is the development on the west side of Manchaca effectively encircled this area. The area to the north was annexed in 2002; areas to the east in 2003 and south in 2007 as those areas were developing. Now the area on the west side of this neighborhood, the opposite side of Manchaca Road, is being proposed for annexation because it also is developing.”

Collier concluded, “It’s true this area has become encircled by new developments and growth of the city limits, so this would leave a doughnut hole and isolate this area from the balance of the county if we weren’t to annex it.”

After more conversation with her colleagues, Kitchen rescinded her original motion and made a motion to reject the annexation.

Tovo and Casar both argued that Council should be following the city’s own policy, under which doughnut holes are not to be left unannexed and the wishes of the residents are not to be factored into the decision.

Casar said, “This isn’t a part of town (from which) we’re going to be getting lots of property tax revenues. These are $200,000, $300,000 homes. These are some of the more modest and cheaper homes in the city, and I understand that. So I understand that if we wait a little while, it’s not as much to the fiscal detriment.”

Nonetheless, he said, he couldn’t support the motion to reject annexation. “I fear that people not wanting to be annexed – in the situations where it really does harm our fiscal position for us to not annex – that they could use the same reasoning.”

Casar continued, “There are other times where I think we are going to continue to have opposition to annexation, but we need to annex areas for environmental protection. We need to annex areas for the fiscal health of the city. Because for us to be able to provide the roads and the streets that you came into City Hall on today or the police department and all these things, we need to be able to serve the growing number of people that work here, even though they don’t pay our property taxes.”

Mayor Steve Adler said he would vote not to annex at this time but agreed with Tovo and Casar that Council should be following its own annexation policy and not making “ad hoc determinations like this. And I think that this really should come back to be reaffirmed by the new Council here as we start next year. Maybe it’s something that could be brought up at our retreat in January to discuss.”

This is the second time this year that Council has voted not to annex an area. A member of the city’s planning staff joked that the failure to annex was the third sign of the apocalypse, following the Chicago Cubs’ winning the World Series and Donald Trump’s being elected president.

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