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Council to reconsider annexing ‘doughnut hole’

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Owners of homes on Susie, Joy and Easy streets told City Council last week that they do not wish to be annexed any more than they did in 2016, when Council voted not to annex the approximately 34-acre Mooreland Addition in southwestern Travis County.

Failing to annex would leave a hole in the doughnut, as city staff likes to say, because the entire area is surrounded by the city of Austin. The city would not be losing a lot of property tax revenues if Council voted again not to annex the area. According to a memo from Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, the Mooreland Addition would initially generate $31,527 in property tax revenue. Additional development could easily increase that number, of course.

This time, however, if Council fails to annex by the end of November, future annexation will be considerably more difficult and more costly because of the Texas Legislature’s adoption of Senate Bill 6.

Mayor Steve Adler told the people gathered for the hearing on Thursday that he did not think they heard the justification for annexation the last time such a hearing was held.

“I think that the justification for doing an annexation in an area like this is that the folks in your neighborhood, when you leave your immediate neighborhood, travel on city streets, there are city traffic lights, and as a community we all pitch in to pay for those things, and everyone who lives here, that travels on those streets, uses those traffic lights and pitches in.”

In addition, Adler said the city provides parks “that are available to everyone that lives here, including the folks that are in your neighborhood. We participate collectively to help provide affordable housing in the community and health and human services for people that live in the community, libraries, municipal courts, and those are the kinds of things that don’t happen unless collectively a community joins to pay for the things that we all use.”

Several speakers from the area asked Council at last week’s public hearing not to annex their small area. For example, John Honigschmidt pointed out that he and his neighbors believe they already have the benefits they need, including city sewer and water service, and get electric service from the Pedernales Electric Co-op.

“The only reason we’re surrounded by Austin is because you guys came in and surrounded us via the land grabs because you needed more money,” he said. “I just feel it’s completely unnecessary. Are you going to start taxing everybody in Kyle because there’s only two roads to get north? … We’re not gaining anything from y’all … anything I can see that’s a benefit.” Honigschmidt concluded that he hoped that Council would postpone the annexation question so that he and his neighbors can vote on it.

According to Guernsey’s memo, after Dec. 1, under state law the city must obtain approval from 50 percent or more of the landowners in an area proposed for annexation or 50 percent or more of the voters in the same area.

City staff is working on figuring out the costs and steps to administer and implement such a process, he wrote.

In addition to the financial implications of failing to annex, “a decision to not annex this enclave negatively impacts and complicates public safety regulations and response to this area,” Guernsey’s memo states. He points out that areas within the city receive different public safety services and “are subject to different regulations,” including those governing noise, discharge of firearms, outdoor burning and fireworks, and alcohol sales.

Council is expected to make a decision on the annexation sometime in November. If the area were to be annexed, those residents would live in Council Member Ann Kitchen’s District 5. Kitchen argued against annexation when the matter came up in 2016. She noted that residents of the area lived in modest homes, with many older residents.

At the time, Council Member Greg Casar made the strongest arguments in favor of annexing the area. In addition to the need for environmental protection, Casar said, “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.”

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